As FIH Pro League starts, hockey to have first brush with Covid protocols
The sport is gearing up for the restart of its flagship the FIH Pro League at the Düsseldorfer HC ground in Dusseldorf, Germany from September 22.Updated: Sep 20, 2020, 22:13 IST
The bio-secure bubble is the new normal for sports and field hockey will have its first brush with it and other Covid-19 protocols in the last few days. The sport is gearing up for the restart of its flagship the FIH Pro League at the Düsseldorfer HC ground in Dusseldorf, Germany from September 22.
Though it will be a mini-bubble for just over a week during which four matches, two each involving the men and women’s teams of Germany and Belgium will be played, it will be closely watched by the international hockey community as its success could clear the path for more international competitions and bilateral tours in the buildup to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics next year.
International hockey will return to action after a six-month hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic behind closed doors at Düsseldorf when hosts Germany women take on Belgium in a FIH Pro League match on September 22 (Tuesday).
The men’s competition will start a couple of hours later with Germany men taking on Belgium men. Both the men’s and women’s teams will play the return matches at the same venue the next day, thus completing the Pro League engagements for this month.
The action will resume after a months break on October 27 with the Netherlands men and women taking on Great Britain at the Wagener Hockey Stadium at Amstelveen and will continue till November 15. Matches will resume again on January 24 and continue till the finals in June 2021. The Indian team will get into action in April 2021.
For the first two matches on September 22 at Dusseldorf, the Deutscher Hockey-Bund (Germany Hockey Federation) has made elaborate arrangements taking into account protocols set by the FIH and local government authorities.
“We fully implement the hygiene concept drawn up with the International Hockey Federation and the responsible authorities in Düsseldorf. This includes the secure bubble as well as distance and hygiene rules for all people present who are not part of the bubble,” informed Christoph Plass, Media Officer, German Hockey Federation, in an email interaction.
“They will follow the hygiene concept that the team doctors have developed based on the concept of the international federation,” he informed.
Accordingly, the four teams (two men and two women) will be staying in two different hotels, where they will have their own locked area and will have no contact to other hotel guests.
The players will tested as per local government rules before joining the bio-bubble and will be again tested as per local government protocol in Dusseldorf.
“All participants of the bubble have to show a negative corona test within 48 hours before the first game. This is a fixed rule of the hygiene concept,” Plass added.
Considering that these will be the first matches since the suspension of the Pro League in March, the entire hockey fraternity will keenly following the activities of the German hockey federation.
“All are aware of their responsibility. International competitions under the new Covid-19 guidelines have already taken place in Düsseldorf (e.g. beach volleyball tournament), so we will use the expertise,” said Plass.
While it will be a new experience for the people organising the matches, the German players will also be a bit under-prepared as they have not practiced together since January.
“There have not had any training camps. The players came together for training only a few days before the two games for the first time since January,” said Plass.
However, the players have been following the programmes set by the coaching staff during the lockdown and therefore were in peak fitness when they assembled for their training sessions, according to Shane McLeod, chief coach of the Belgium men’s team, ranked No 1 in the World.
“We were able to do a lot of technical stuff, when we could have training sessions, their technical levels were very high. I would even dare say, for a lot of the players, they made some gains during their time because we were able to focus quite individually on each of the athletes. So, there were positives. The big negative was not playing together so we have had to rebuild our game a little bit but it has given us an opportunity to add more things to their game so our overall game gets better,” McLeod told the FIH’s official website.
With the players getting into action after a long time, both the German men and their Belgium counterparts will try their junior players as they build up their squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I think one of the groups within our squad that has made the most progress over the past couple of years has been the young guys.Those guys, we are going to try to give them experience in the first part of the Pro League and give them back for investing in our team and I will be really interested to see where they get to by the time Tokyo [2020 Olympic Games] arrives,” said McLeod.
The German men’s team will also be thirsting for revenge as they were thrashed 8-0 by the reigning European champions when the two teams had met at home in the Pro League in 2019. Germany has made a solid start against Spain in the second edition of the Pro League, but that was before the league was suspended.
Kais Al Saadi, the head coach of the German men’s team said though his team, which had a week-long camp, was not in ideal preparation, he was sure it will give its best against the World No 1.
“Pro League has been very good for us in 2020. We were looking forward to the games. Our start in Valencia [against Spain] was okay. Motivational concerns, I don’t have, but, of course, the team is far from being on-point and sharp and ready. But we will learn a lot and compensate with excitement and motivation,” said Al Saadi.