USA Field Hockey gets new opponent as Belgium replaces India in women’s Hockey Pro League | Field Hockey

India’s loss looks to be Spain and Belgium’s gain.

Just one month after the International Hockey Federation announced the formation of the Hockey Pro League, it confirmed changes to the lists of both the men’s and women’s competitors on Friday.

Following India’s decision to withdraw from the tournament, the FIH has added Spain to the men’s field and Belgium to the women’s league, which will begin play in January 2019.

The Hockey Pro League was created in June to serve as a “game-changing new competition,” establishing a 144-game league in which nine men’s teams and nine women’s teams will play home and away series over the course of a six month season.

Teams will earn points with each game, with the top four countries advancing to the playoffs and a league champion being crowned at the Grand Final.

In all, 13 men’s teams and 12 women’s squads applied for the league and were evaluated by the FIH Executive Board before the final teams were chosen.

The fourth-ranked U.S. women earned a spot along with No. 12 India, No. 2 England/Great Britain, No. 3 Argentina, No. 5 Australia, No. 8 China, No. 7 Germany, No. 6 New Zealand and No. 1 the Netherlands.

In addition to No. 6 India, the men’s teams selected included No. 1 Argentina, No. 2 Australia, No. 5 Belgium, No. 7 England/Great Britain, No. 3 Germany, No. 4 the Netherlands, No. 8 New Zealand and No. 14 Pakistan.

Though not confirmed by India, reports speculated that the decision to leave the league was made due to concern over the competition the women’s team would face.

With the Hockey Pro League serving as a qualifier for the Olympics and the World Cup — with the top four teams earning berths — the belief is that it would be harder for India to qualify against the competition in the new league than by playing in the traditional qualifying tournaments and continental championships.

While the same concerns were not raised for the men’s team, India only had two options — let both teams play or withdraw them both from the competition. Countries agreeing to play in the league are locked into the tournament for a minimum of four years.

FIH No. 9 Spain and No. 14 Belgium and been named first reserves in June and were officially approved to join the league by the FIH Executive Board at the Hockey World League Workshop in Switzerland on Thursday. Also discussed at the meeting were logistical issues for the competition as well as the scheduling of games.

The current plan is to start the season with countries in the southern hemisphere hosting games before play shifts to the northern hemisphere with the change in seasons. More information about the league and the official schedule are expected to be announced later this year. 

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