The FIH finds itself at the heart of the controversy. For Thierry Weil, its CEO, it is essential that federations, players and fans unite to ensure the attractiveness of hockey.
Even if he was obviously expecting a mini-storm when the winners (8 Indians in the 8 categories) of the Hockey Stars Awards were announced, in the middle of the week, the CEO of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) All the same, it had to increase the number of meetings and calls with the national federations and journalists to appease the criticisms which fell en masse on the offices in Lausanne. As usual, Frenchman Thierry Weill, who served as Fifa Marketing Director for ten years, took the time to explain and answer all questions. Straightforward and without tongue in cheek.
Thierry Weill, do you understand the controversy surrounding the election of the Stars Awards?
We obviously hear all the criticisms and will take them into account in the future. The reaction of the Belgian Federation via social networks was moreover very correct since your country simply asked that we be able to work together to review the voting procedure. We therefore had a first telephone meeting, this Friday, with Denis Van Damme, the communications manager, to discuss it. And we repeated that we were open to all discussions, without taboos. Since 2016, we have changed the format every year. But we still run into the same problem. If the players or the federations don’t vote, no system will ever work.
The image of the FIH has seemed tarnished in recent years with comments surrounding the second election of Dr Narinder Batra as president, accusations of corruption or a delicate financial situation. Do you understand all these criticisms?
We obviously hear them. But the first thing is that these detractors must above all accept the results of a democratic election, whether for that of the president or the player of the year. Narinder Batra is 300% dedicated to hockey even though he has other duties. He was always there in bad times to make the right decisions. We do have a lot of Indian sponsors, but we are unable to convince large international groups. We have to admit that we are always a little disorganized. Hockey is not yet professional enough within the framework of the organization.
So India is simply the most “bankable” nation?
Yes indeed ! Why do we hold all of our events there? Because they are the only ones who pay us the full fee (fees, in English, editor’s note) for the organization of major tournaments. India is the only nation that can pay $ 250,000 (216,500 euros, editor’s note) to organize the U21 Men’s World Cup. While no one else wants to pay a dime to host it.
So this means that the Belgian bid for 2022 was not as interesting as what has been said?
This one was super interesting. And I repeated it to Patrick Keusters when we met in Liège to present the Indoor World Cup. A huge effort has been made. Normally, we would have done everything to accept it. But when you have a knife to your throat and you can earn 1 million more, the decision is quickly made.
Will there be a new Final 4 at the end of the 3rd season of the Pro League?
No. Because it is too complex to ask a nation to organize this meeting without any guarantee of participating. It is incurring a lot of costs without being sure to recover your marbles. The only nation that can take this risk is the Netherlands, which are almost guaranteed to see their ladies or gentlemen team taking part. But I can on the other hand confirm that there will be a prize money for the winner of the 2022 edition even if we have not yet established the amount (in 2021, the Red Lions won $ 15,000, Editor’s note).
But above all, isn’t the Pro League missing a real sporting issue?
It’s obvious. It is above all necessary to establish a system of rise or relegation. The competition cannot be a closed league. This is why we created the Nation’s Cup which will allow countries to conquer their place in the Pro League. This will then allow us to use the format to ensure direct qualification for the Olympics or for a World Cup. But, currently, the national federations have not followed …
In presenting his program for the election to the FIH, Marc Coudron had insisted in his program on a return to roots and values. This is not the case today?
We will see each other in Brussels with Marc on October 16 during the Red Lions’ first game against Germany. We will be able to discuss this more calmly. I will try to understand what we have not done well in recent years. I am ready to carry his project and thus not to wait 4 more years to put forward his ideas. Personally, I also spoke with the Belgian, Dutch and German clubs to listen to their complaints. But of course I realize that we can always do more.