International Hockey Federation defends itself over Hockey Stars Awards controversy

FIH president Thierry Weil, responding on Monday to online criticism of the award winners, said a task force would likely be created to look into the matter.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Hockey - Men - Medal Ceremony - Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 5, 2021. Players of Belgium sing their national anthem on the podium after receiving their gold medals. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Hockey - Men - Medal Ceremony - Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 5, 2021. Players of Belgium sing their national anthem on the podium after receiving their gold medals. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) president Thierry Weil says a “thorough analysis” will be made after this year’s controversial winners of the FIH Hockey Stars Awards.

Despite not winning either of the gold medals on offer in Tokyo, Indian athletes claimed all of the top honors offered at the FIH Hockey Stars Awards. The only non-Indian award winners were the coaches of both of India’s national teams, Sjoerd Marijne of the Netherlands (women’s) and Graham Reid of Australia (men’s).

Belgium won the men’s Olympic tournament with India finishing third while the Netherlands won the women’s with India finishing fourth.

The awards were determined by votes from three groups: national federations, fans and players, and media. Votes from the national federations were given a weight of 50 percent, while votes from the remaining two groups were each given a weight of 25 percent.

According to the FIH, this year’s awards saw record engagement from fans, with nearly 300,000 casting votes. This led to theories online that the award voting may have been disproportionately swayed by the fan vote.

As pointed out by the FIH last week, turnout among the national associations was much lower than among the fans group. Only 79 out of 138 eligible national associations cast votes for the awards, and no continent managed to register a 100 percent turnout rate.

FIH also noted that “all winning athletes have topped the standings in each of the three voting groups (National Associations / Fans and Players / Media). In other words, even if one or two of these voting groups would not have been involved, the winning athletes would have been the same”.

Weil commented on the controversy on Monday in an interview published on the federation’s website.

FIH president Thierry Weil (FIH)
FIH president Thierry Weil (FIH)

“If, in an Olympic year, the Gold medallists don’t win any Award and another nation gets all of them, it is clear that this won’t come across well! Therefore, I of course do understand the disappointment and also, to some extent, the anger, especially of the teams concerned,” Weil said.

When asked about possible future changes to the voting process, Weil commented, “I can’t answer this question before we do a thorough analysis. But I can tell you that we will work on the future Stars Awards with the global hockey community.”

“We will engage with many stakeholders to come up with a process which receives the support of most, and then go with it for next year. These Awards are here to promote hockey, athletes and coaches. It isn’t good for anybody if they lead to controversy. I’ve already engaged with a few and will continue to do so.”

“We will most likely create a Task Force to look at this. And I’m absolutely convinced that we will find a compromise which will ensure that the global hockey community celebrates these Awards in the future!”

Players of India celebrate after teammate Gurjit Kaur (out of frame) scored against Argentina during their women's semi-final match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games field hockey competition, at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, on August 4, 2021. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP)
Players of India celebrate after teammate Gurjit Kaur (out of frame) scored against Argentina during their women's semi-final match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games field hockey competition, at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, on August 4, 2021. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP)

But Weil also defended the current voting process, claiming that it should work “as long as it is implemented by everybody”.

“It is very similar to what is applied successfully by other organisations. It gives the chance to major hockey stakeholders – teams, players, coaches, fans and media – to cast a vote for the most important yearly awards in global hockey, while a higher weight is given to national team coaches and captains.”

When asked whether having fans vote on awards meant to reward technical ability was a sound idea, Weil stated, “Our overall strategy at FIH is to put athletes and fans at the centre of everything we do. So, it is essential to give fans an option to express their views.”

“If in this regard the current process is the right one or not, is something we will need to analyse of course. But clearly we need to involve the fans one way or the other. After all, thanks to this vote, we will have the opportunity to engage with almost 300′000 fans! This is not only good for India – where most of these fans are coming from – but for the growth of our sport overall and therefore the whole hockey community!”

He also wanted to make sure the winners of this year’s awards are not ignored.

“At the same time, I want to congratulate the winners! They were all nominated by an expert committee – made of FIH, FIH Athletes Committee and high performance representatives – and therefore were as much entitled as the others to win! And both Indian teams had a fantastic performance at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020! I assume that the natural joy which they should rightly feel by winning such an Award may have been altered by all this, and that is not nice either.”


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