International hockey is preparing for the biggest rejig in years, designed to raise the profile and competitiveness of the sport.

For years, hockey has had a mix of Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and various other annual, or biennial events such as World Cups, Champions Trophy and World League tournaments.

But in 2019 the International Hockey Federation is launching the Pro League, featuring two nine-team competitions running globally over six months, with every team playing all others home and away to find the champions.

"It's a complete game-changer for hockey," FIH chief executive, New Zealander Jason McCracken said.


New Zealand's two national teams are in the competition, the women ranked sixth and the men eighth. There's no question hockey has needed a pep up and the hope is this event, which will run for a minimum four years, starting in January 2019, will provide it.

Competition will shift around the globe, essentially following the sun, with the expectation it will begin with European and Asian teams visiting New Zealand, Australia and Argentina before moving back to the Northern Hemisphere for the concluding couple of months.

The top four in each will advance to a finals format to find the champions. Expect that to be staged in Europe.

The question is why rework the international game?

"During the World League tournament, most games were played in front of empty stadiums, apart from parents, management staff and real diehards," said McCracken, a former umpire and tournament official.

"You'd get a couple of hundred people. Here we have the concept of home rivalry, defending your turf. Every one of the 144 games is a home match."

McCracken used "big", "bold", and "loud" as buzzwords FIH are hoping to generate.

Among the big upsides for New Zealand fans will be seeing top nations, such as the Netherlands, England and Germany, who are rarely sighted in this country.

Dutch travel companies have been in touch, hoping to organise supporters tours Downunder. A three-week trip taking in Buenos Aires, Australia and New Zealand is in the pipeline.

"Rather than talk hockey for two weeks (the duration of most tournaments), the rhetoric of hockey can exist four or five months. During April/May/June we have a game pretty much every day," McCracken added.

There are some distinct differences in approach. The Dutch are planning to play all matches in their new national stadium in Amsterdam; New Zealand are looking at moving matches around the country.

There are still some details to be resolved, such as whether draws are acceptable or do matches need golden goal, extra time or shootout scenarios.

India, ranked sixth in the men's game, withdrew their teams for reasons which haven't been made clear by its national body. Spain (men) and Belgium (women) are expected to be confirmed as replacements.

The FIH will oversee the television production, aiming for a uniformly high quality production, and while the financial details, prize money, who pays for what, are still to be confirmed the profit-sharing arrangements between the international body and national associations is aimed at ensuring no one is out of pocket.

Experienced New Zealand defender Sam Charlton is enthusiastic about the league.

"In New Zealand we have to travel for a lot of [international] games so it's not going to be that different," the 199-cap veteran said. "But the cool thing is it brings the best teams to New Zealand and you just don't get the European teams, the Netherlands, Germanys and Englands here.

"Hockey fans are going to see awesome games and it makes every test exciting. What the FIH are trying to do is make it more exciting sport to watch and a truly global game."

The men's teams are Argentina (world No 1), Australia (2), Germany (3), Netherlands (4), Belgium (5), England (7), New Zealand (8), Spain (9) and Pakistan (14), who will play their home games in Scotland.

The women's event will be contested between the Netherlands (1), England (2), Argentina (3), United States (4), Australia (5), New Zealand (6), Germany (7), China (8) and Belgium (14).

Pro League
●Nine teams will compete in each of the men's and women's inaugural Pro League, which will run for an initial four years, from January to about July.
●All teams will play an international against each other, home and away, with the top four in each competition advancing to the finals.
●A total of 144 games will be played, and all televised. Olympic qualification will be part of the league.
●It will replace the World League and is intended to bump interest in hockey around the globe for a more sustained period.
●The draw for four years is expected out before the end of this year. The first season will be in 2019.