Be it India's stature as the most-lucrative destination for global events or a dearth of options available to the International Hockey Federation (FIH), more and more prestigious tournaments seem headed for Indian cities.
The 11th edition of the men's FIH Junior World Cup could be the next significant event allocated to India at the FIH executive board's conclave at Lausanne in March. Lest the FIH suddenly attracts lucrative bids " which are not usually the case for the youth events " this could be the third successive men's Junior World Cup with India playing hosts.
It might have been a bit embarrassing for an international federation to revert to the same nation to stage its major events, but the FIH shed such inhibitions a long time ago. If India were willing to write the cheques, the FIH was eager to mend its event allocation policy and play ball. Since the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi opened the FIH's eyes to the bonanza it could reap from India, the country has been the favourite destination for international events. And that was long before the FIH elected an Indian official as its first non-European President.
Gone were the days when the Indian hockey fraternity had to work hard to induce an impressive line-up for the annual Indira Gandhi Gold Cup Tournament. Long after that tournament went off the FIH roster, there has been a bonanza in the form of a series of tournaments as the FIH showed its eagerness to rake in the big bucks.
Vying to stage major international events, Indian cities/states are intent on continuing the trend as they show growing inclination to be inclined to go down the path of paying big bucks to sweeten their bids for hosting rights.
After staging the elite men's FIH World Cup twice out of the past three editions, the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar has secured the right to host a second successive World Cup in 2023. This time Odisha state's capital Bhubaneswar will share the hosting rights with Rourkela, another city in the state where hockey is immensely popular.
Now, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh is eager to attract top-class international events and the opportunity seems to have arisen as the FIH goes out eliciting bids for the next Junior World Cup for men. After the 2013 edition in New Delhi and the 2016 tournament in Lucknow, a third successive men's FIH Junior World Cup could be played in India.
When New Delhi and Lucknow were allocated the men's FIH Junior World Cups, that was the period when the FIH was trying to stage one major event to India every year to reap the benefits from Indian sponsors keen on hockey. In fact, the 2016 World Cup was advanced by a year to ensure there was a tournament staged in India that year " sandwiched between the World League Finals in 2015 and 2017.
News emerging from Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh state, makes no bones that the city had put in an in-principal bid for the next FIH Junior World Cup.
It was the state of Chhattisgarh that began the practice of paying big bucks to attract major hockey tournament when Raipur was chosen the venue for the Hockey World League Finals in 2015.
From a performance perspective, it was deemed a success as the Indian team secured a bronze medal, the country's first medal at a global event since the bronze at the 1982 Champions Trophy.
Sources in the FIH have told Hockey Insider that the world body would gladly accept the offer if any city or state authority was willing to pay the bills. It was in 2016 that the FIH and its affiliated Indian national federation discovered the attraction for the Junior World Cup when the state of Uttar Pradesh signed in a host and title sponsor of the tournament.
This time, Chhattisgarh is keen to stage the 16-nation event in Raipur and two other cities " Bilaspur and Rajnandgaon " which is likely to be considered by the FIH at its next Executive Board meeting in March where a decision on the host cities for the Junior World Cups " for men and women.
After announcing that the next Junior World Cup will be staged in 2021, Hockey Insider has learnt that the FIH is now pondering over scheduling it in 2022. Part of the delay was because the FIH got too occupied in frequent opening of bids for the 2023 senior World Cup. Now with lucrative hosting contracts for the elite event for seniors, the focus has shifted to the juniors.
If the FIH intends to stick to its decision announced in December 2018, the Junior World Cup will henceforth be staged every two years. It seemed somewhat strange for the sport's governing body to announce this after forgetting to schedule the 2020 edition in the four-year roster.
The FIH decision to reduce the frequency of the tournament was to ensure young players did not miss the world juniors' event in the four-year circuit. Although the FIH made the grand statement of ensuring enough international exposure to junior internationals, at least one generation of young players would already have lost its chance of winning a World Cup before the next edition gets underway.
A global title may have eluded India since the Olympic gold medal in 1980, but their young boys earned some plaudits over the years. From a close miss in the final of the 1997 Junior World Cup at Milton Keynes (Britain), India stepped up to claim the title in 2001 at Hobart (Australia) and then won it a second time in front of applauding home fans at Lucknow in 2016.
From the embarrassing situation where it had fallen way behind the schedule to nominate host cities for the next Junior World Cup, the FIH could be in for a bonanza if more than one city or state gets interested in earning its staging rights.