‘Once in a generation chance’ for hockey

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 March 2020

A hockey goalie guards her post (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

A hockey goalie guards her post (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo +44 1376 553468

The England Hockey AGM on Tuesday has been billed as a ‘once in a generation chance’ to improve the structure of the sport for years to come.

The 2019/20 hockey season is drawing to a close (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)The 2019/20 hockey season is drawing to a close (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Hockey associations and clubs will have a chance to vote on changes to the way hockey leagues and rules and regulations are structured and administered at Bisham Abbey on Tuesday.

Under a proposal first submitted by Alderley Edge and London Wayfarers at the 2017 AGM, the voting membership is being asked to vote for or against sweeping changes to the current system of domestic hockey.

A working group has undertaken a comprehensive consulation process since 2017 and found the current state of league hockey reflects the wa in which the sport has grown and developed over the past few decades.

As regional associations and county associations have developed, their systems of league management, junior development and umpiring processes have been adapted, refined and modified. Consequentially, there are now multiple variations in rules and regulations across the country.

Upminster's Paul Middlemiss on the ball against Romford (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)Upminster's Paul Middlemiss on the ball against Romford (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Club administrators have to deal with different regulations depending upon which league their club teams participate in. There are currently 40 sets of league rules with variations in rules from one region to the next.

There is no one single database of players, fixtures, results and other relevant information. The way in which teams progress through league structures is complicated and varies across the country. League rules vary for men and women in the same region and junior talent pathways differ in terms of quality and provision.

At the same time, this is far from a broken system. Regional and county associations have run the sport successfully for a long time. The proposal is about moving the sport forwards to better reflect the way people live their lives today.

It recognises that many people are pressed for time; that hours spent travelling to and from matches is counter-intuitive to environmental concerns; transparency within organisations is paramount; and opportunities to progress, both as a team and as individuals, need to be equal across the country.

Romford HC vs Upminster HC 3rd XI, East Region League Field Hockey at Bower Park Academy on 14th March 2020Romford HC vs Upminster HC 3rd XI, East Region League Field Hockey at Bower Park Academy on 14th March 2020

Besides setting out to standardise league rules and regulations, the proposals also seek to rationalise the administrative regions. This means eight areas instead of the current five. The top performing clubs will still play in the National League system. Below that, the leagues will become more localised, reducing the amount of time players, umpires and spectators spend travelling.

Figures worked out by one club - Brooklands HC - used rough modelling to show that there will be a reduction of about 85,000 miles per year in the North-West for clubs. Multiply that by the number of cars travelling to a match - about four or five - and the reduction in travel becomes huge: about 300,000 miles across the NW leagues.

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There will be a more even spread of the number of players and clubs in an area - currently some areas have a significantly higher amount of both, which has implications for promotion and relegation as well as potentially reducing the available opportunities for talented players to join junior talent pathways.

At the same time, the proposal also sets out to ensure all governing organisations are accountable and transparent. There are many regional, county and club organisations being run very efficiently but there are others that are not accountable to their members and do not publish accounts. Under the proposals, accountability would be linear - from the newly-formed areas and sub-areas to the national governing body and the club-based membership.

Alignment, standardisation and parity are the watchwords at the heart of the proposals. Locally delivered leagues and competitions, for junior and masters hockey, will largely be the preserve of Sub-Areas (for a large part these will be aligned to current country boundaries).

Hockey provision, across the adult leagues, will be under the rule of the eight Areas, all working to standardised rules and regulations. Overseeing the landscape will be England Hockey. A similar aligned approach will be implemented for umpiring.

There are, unsurprisingly, reservations about the proposals, particularly when it comes to time scales and getting the restructuring done in readiness for the 2021-22 season. Should the proposal not be passed for any of these reasons, then England Hockey will simply not have the remit to make any changes to the current structure and organisation.

With a volunteer base that is at breaking point, due to the demands of the current system, the hockey community will need to go back to the drawing board and look at a fresh approach if it is to make any changes to the current system.

Liz Pelling chairs the AGM Resolution working party. She is also Vice President of England Hockey, as well as an umpire, umpire coach and life-long volunteer. She combines her hockey commitments with a full-time career. She gave this heartfelt reaction when asked about the AGM Resolution and its importance to the future of hockey in England.

'When I was asked to chair a small group of people to look at the sport and see how it could be made fit for the future, it felt like a fantastic opportunity to take hockey into a new blue-sky day,' said Pelling.

'Consultation was key, as was concentrating on 'why' we were asked to do this. Clubs were at the centre of all our thinking. They asked for the review, and they were keen and willing to give feedback - often!

'Our small, nimble working group has taken all the feedback and, with the help of the development team at England Hockey, communicated a structure we all believe will help take hockey forward.

'If the members chose to vote for the resolution at the AGM, then our working group, the team at England Hockey, along with many willing volunteers, are ready to act quickly to bring about this next chapter ready for 2021/22 season.

'If members chose the status quo, it's my opinion that hockey will stand still, that the sport will lose its momentum and ability to react to the current times and most importantly, be unable to meet the needs of the sportsmen and women up and down the country.'

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