Hockey: FIH Ranking System Explained ( Part 1)

In six days time, the new ranking system of the International Hockey Federation will be introduced.

Many are still bewildered as to how the ranking systems work, be it the old one or the one that takes effect on January 1, 2020.

Over the next series of articles we shall try to understand better the entire process of the FIH World Ranking system that will debut soon.

So watch this space constantly to better understand.

It is not too complex and easily understood only if you know the sport well enough.

But if you are a parachuted official who made the grade through politics rather then ability, so help you , the sport, God.

Will this ranking system encourage playing more meaningful international matches?

FIH response:

This is the whole reason for introducing the new match based system. To encourage more matches and a more dynamic world ranking table. We will have to continually assess whether this is achieved, but it is certainly the intention.

What is the plan to publish rankings?

FIH Response:

The rankings will be calculated live as each international match finishes, but we will publish the rankings, with comment on nations who have moved, on a monthly basis.

The implementation date (January 1, 2020) and the retention of the points from the old system means teams who have accumulated points over the last 4 years will not have these reduced over time. How is this being managed?

FIH Response:

The influence of the starting ranking points will reduce over time as teams settle to their current ranking position. If a team is currently ranked “too high” then they will lose points as they play matches and settle at their current performance level. This “degrading” over time will be quicker than the current system due to the number of matches played. This has been shown to be the case in the model that we ran in the background during 2019

As this system has been developed in house with no external party review, what reassurance can the FIH give of the accuracy of this new system?

FIH Response:

This system has had more review from within the hockey community than any previous system and has been both modelled for every match since Rio Olympics AND has been run in parallel for all of 2019 to assess its accuracy. The increased cost of external review is unnecessary, as the main unknown is the potential behavioural change of coaches setting performance programmes, so consulting the high performance hockey community, which has been done, is the best way to achieve this rather than asking an auditor or external consultant. The new system has been run in parallel with the current system throughout 2019 and has been shown to better reflect current performance levels.

What dates rankings will be used to determine pools and continental quota calculations for major competitions such as the Olympic Games and World Cups?

FIH Response:

We have specified the dates that rankings are used to calculate pools and continental quotas for qualification purposes for the next editions of the FIH World Cup. As we get into the next cycle, dates for qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games, and subsequent World Cups will be published.

Have you looked at the differences created between those in Pro League and out of Pro League?

FIH Response:

The system does not bias those in or out of Pro League as it takes into account matches played and the relative strength of the opposition. This removes the perception that teams can buy their way into more points by simply satisfying commercial criteria to get into the Pro League.

How do we protect the system from those that might fall if they play tests – ie deliberately not play in order to maintain current ranking/points?

FIH Response:

The system accounts for this by being a net zero system where points are exchanged. Therefore whilst playing matches risks losing points, it also provides the opportunity to gain them. This is true for an individual team as well as for teams ranked around that team, so not playing could result in a drop, or a rise, in World Ranking position, dependant on other results. Coaches should still want to play matches in order for their teams to improve, so whilst we will monitor this behaviour, we expect the number of official matches to stay the same or increase. The key point is that all official test matches will count for the world ranking, rather than just a small percentage as previously did.

How does the new system manage “friendlies” and allow coaches to experiment and teams to play practice matches that do not count towards world ranking points?

FIH Response:

The situation is the same as it has been previously. Friendlies, or practice matches, can still be played and they will not award international caps, will not be recorded on TMS, nor will they have world ranking points attached. Each match will either have all of these elements or none, it will not be possible to have a match, award caps, but not record on TMS or award ranking points. Currently, friendlies are not recorded on TMS and that will not change.

Why has the date of January 1, 2020 been chosen to introduce the new system?

FIH Response:

We tested the system for all of 2019, running it in parallel, and modelled back to 2016, so are confident we have a system that will reflect current performance. If we do not launch the system on January 1st, then there will be no chances for Nations outside of the Pro League or Olympic Games, to gain world ranking points until the Continental Federation Championships in 2021. The introduction in January will not affect the Olympic Games pools, as these have already been set, and it allows all nations to play for ranking points from the start of the year.

Have we tested all matches since Rio including 2019?

FIH Response:

Yes we have a model that we ran from the end of the Rio Olympic Games until 1/1/19, and then reset the model, and ran it based on the current system’s points as of 1/1/19.

How will the new system help smaller NAs as it is unlikely that the matches played by these NAs will increase significantly so as to affect their ranking?

FIH Response:

The previous system recognised only a small proportion of the matches that were played, so for smaller NAs they only had a small number of chances to gain world ranking points over a 4 year period. Even if no more matches are played, the matches that are played have more meaning as they will have ranking points at stake. This should raise the importance and therefore competitiveness of these matches and allows NAs to demonstrate movement within the ranking system. We will not know whether this results in an overall increase in official matches until we roll out the system, but it is expected that all NAs will want to have the chance to gain points where possible and therefore will arrange more official matches.

Has thought been given to awarding ranking points for development programs, such as FIH Coaching, Umpiring, and Technical courses?

FIH Response:

The new system will only recognise official matches in the rankings. Whilst we obviously want to encourage more hockey involvement by NAs, there are many ways to do this rather than the world ranking which is specifically designed to rank teams due to their performance on the pitch in international competition. There can be a limit a year to the number of points that a NA can gain for such programs, but it could help smaller NAs who do not play so many international matches.

Given that points are exchanged between teams, how do “new teams” or “always losing teams” figure in the ranking? Are teams allowed to have negative points?

FIH Response:

When a new team is introduced into the rankings table, they will be awarded 100 ranking points and every other nation will have 100 points added to their total. As the algorithm uses a Weighting factor (W) that is calculated by the difference in points between teams, this has no affect on the overall positions or maths. The same goes for a team that loses points and drops to zero. They are given 100 points, as is everyone else in the ranking table. No team will move into negative points.

This has been looked into in detail, and is the reason for tournament matches being more important than individual test matches.