(Photo: FIH)

Last month, the Fédération Française de Hockey (French Hockey Federation) announced the launch of “Hockey 2020”, an ambitious project which aims to improve the standard of the game and also drive up participation numbers in the country.

For the past 18 months, the Federation has been assessing and reflecting on all elements of the sport in a bid to aid the development of hockey within France. The culmination of this assessment period came three weeks ago, when all of the stakeholders within French Hockey came together to map out the way forward.

To provide a little bit of background, Hockey in France has grown significantly over the years, increasing from just ten organized teams in the late 19th century to a present day tally in excess of 165 clubs.  There are almost 11,000 affiliated players enjoying their hockey in France, of which around 75 percent are male.  Each year, Fédération Française de Hockey (FFH) organizes a total of fifteen championships at regional and national level for men's, women's, and youth teams. On the international scene, France men have played in seven Olympics, although their most recent appearance was over 40 years ago at the Munich 1972 Games. Last February, they just missed out on reaching London 2012 when they finished second behind India in the Olympic Qualifier in New Delhi.

There are a number of challenges which the FFH has to face. Significant geographic and gender disparities exist, with more than 30 percent of hockey being played in the north of the country, while just 25% of players are female. The sport also faces difficulties in promoting hockey to youngsters, who are often drawn to sports that have a higher profile in the France such as soccer, rugby, basketball and handball. On a sporting front, the standard of international hockey has improved significantly, while the increased costs of facilities and equipment are weakening the clubs. On economic front, the sport has to cope with ever-decreasing public subsidies and the need for investment from private partners.

A combination of all of these factors sparked the Hockey 2020 project into life, with the Federation thinking long and hard about the issues that it faces. More than 300 people participated in the project over the last 18 months, helping to craft a clear vision for the future. 

Purely and simply, the aim of the Hockey 2020 project – which has the inspirational tagline “the future is ours” – is to develop the sport in France and for the international teams to achieve qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games. The FFU intends to identify and implement actions that will ensure sustainability of this development with a new form of governance which will involve the entire hockey family.

The first stage of the project was to bring in external consultants who could examine the current state of hockey in France.  Structured around four distinct areas (Competition, Players, Development and Organisation), the findings helped to clarify the strengths and weaknesses of the Fédération Française de Hockey.

The next step was arranging four separate meetings at various locations in France, each of which was dedicated to dealing with one of the four areas. The aims of these seminars were to collect questions, information, requests and assess the needs of all stakeholders in French hockey. The views of players, umpires, parents, partners and staff members were all taken into consideration, as well as the opinions of those outside the sport including media professionals and workers from other sporting associations. This stage allowed the project to put together a list of key questions for each of central themes of Competition, Players, Development and Organisation.

Once the list of questions was confirmed, the next stage was to get them answered! This huge task was completed at the final meeting, which took place in Roubaix last month.

After a full day of work, the stakeholders present were divided into several group “workshops” which were tasked with answering the questions as fully and clearly as possible. These workshops helped to generate action plans for each of the central themes, being integrated into the single prioritized plan which maps out a very clear vision of the future for French hockey. 

As well as the various stakeholders present, the meeting also welcomed the Presidents of two major sporting federations who came to give their support to the FFH. French National Swimming Association President Francis Luyce was joined at the meeting by Royal Belgian Hockey Federation President Marc Coudron, who explained the successful hockey development strategy that has been used in Belgium. 

“This meeting was the final step in the Hockey development program but this was also the first step in its implementation,” said Olivier Moreau, General Secretary of the FFH.  “Now, the challenge is huge for the French Federation as we have to validate the strategic vision by carrying out concrete actions. In the next two months, a new team will take charge of the Federation with the goal of being ready in 2020. The most difficult part starts right now - bringing the project to life. We have to turn all ideas into actions and involve everyone to a make a new Hockey in France. That is the new phase that will last for the next eight years.”