Hockey: ESS, IHF usher in more changes

NEW DELHI: Unfazed by new sports broadcasting norms announced by the government, ESPN-Star Sports and Indian Hockey Federation today unveiled the schedule for a new season of Premier Hockey League with more innovations thrown in.

Apart from introducing a third umpire to adjudicate on disputed and doubtful on-field umpiring decisions, a la cricket, PHL now will also have three finals to make the proceedings more attractive for audiences.

To ensure that more people are able to view the fixtures, Tier I matches will be played in the evening starting the Thursday of each week and running across on Friday, Saturday and Sunday till the end of the league.

The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), India's apex body for hockey management, today said at a press conference that Chandigarh will host the second edition of the PHL starting from 5 January, 2006.

ESPN STAR Sports, which has been entrusted with the key responsibility of marketing, producing and broadcasting the hockey league for a period of ten years, will showcase PHL live on its network.

Asked whether ESS’ investments in domestic hockey is likely to get affected by new media norms announced by the government, ESPN India MD RC Venkateish said, “At the moment it doesn’t look like that happening. But in future one

doesn’t know whether Doordarshan would suddenly get interested in hockey once the event becomes a money-spinner.”

Earlier this week, the government announced a slew of media-regulated regulations, including a seemingly anti-competitive norm that all listed sports events would have to be shared by private rights holders with pubcaster Doordarshan on a mandatory basis.

Meanwhile, dwelling on the changes introduced in PHL, hockey federation president KPS Gill said, “The inaugural PHL set new benchmarks as the world took notice of a completely new, revolutionary league. This time we will raise the bar even further with new innovations."

The changes in the format unveiled by the IHF include the introduction of the third umpire for the first time in the world of hockey and holding 'Best of Three Finals', unlike last year where the winner was decided after a round robin league. The top two teams from Tier I, after the round robin league, will compete in the 'Best of Three' finals.

`Chandigarh Dynamos’, winners of the Tier II league last year, have been promoted to Tier I this year. `Chennai Veerans’, who finished at the bottom of Tier I, have been relegated to Tier II. `Bengal Tigers’, who finished at the bottom of Tier II, have been replaced by 'Rourkela Steelers'.

According to Venkateish, "PHL 2005 was a viewing spectacle with comprehensive match analysis, pre and post-match shows and bi-lingual commentary in English and Hindi. We are in the process of finalizing the process of implementing the new concept (third umpire).”

Maurits Hendricks, the incumbent coach of the Spanish hockey team, has been re-appointed the consultant for PHL. Maurits will provide his valuable inputs to all the participating teams during the league and be responsible for short listing foreign players.

Kolkata based sports management company Leisure Sports Management (LSM) will handle on-ground activities. Said the company’s CMD SS Dasgupta, “We are currently working on a detailed blue-print to ensure that PHL dons the look of a grand carnival.”

Like last year, each game will have four quarters of 17 minutes and 30 seconds each, instead of the two halves after rules were tweaked a bit to make the matches more TV friendly.

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