Hockey continues to be the groundbreaking sport when it comes to equality. In news that caused a stir among players and fans alike, the European Hockey Federation (EHF) has announced that it will be expanding the current EuroHockey League (EHL) to include the top women’s clubs in Europe.
Pan-European club hockey has been around a long time – the Club Champion Cup was created in 1974 and the Cup Winners Cup was added in 1990. These two competitions were reformatted in 2010 into the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup, with five divisions and up to 40 clubs from across Europe participating.
But, successful as this competition was, the next step for the EHF was always going to be to include the women's top club sides in the razzmatazz competition of the EuroHockey League.
The new women's EHL drew praise from FIH CEO Thierry Weil, who said: "This announcement by the EHF is great news for hockey and is yet another instance where an organisation involved in delivering our sport has demonstrated total commitment towards making hockey a sport that is equal in every way.
"The new women's EHL will be a superb showcase for top class women's club hockey in Europe and the fact that it is equal in every way – in terms of prize money, coverage and video referrals – is what everyone in hockey, and sport in general, should be aiming towards."
With huge crowds, full television coverage and a spectacular production package, eight women’s teams will battle it out at the FINAL8 alongside the EHL Men’s FINAL8 to become EHL Champions.
In line with the EHF’s commitment to gender equality, there will be equal prize money, equal broadcast coverage and a full video referral system will be in place.
In preparation for the launch of the women's EHL, from the 2019/20 season, the competition will be based on a FINAL8 knock-out format, starting with quarter-finals leading into semi-finals and the grand final, with ranking matches in place for those knocked out at the first stage. Teams will qualify for EHL Women in a similar manner to before with the top two nations on the EHL rankings table earning two places in the competition while the next six nations will receive one entry.
The FINAL8 weekend will see the top men’s and women’s club sides joined by competitors from two further competitions – EHL U14 Girls and EHL U14 Boys – making for a spectacular weekend of top flight hockey action.
Players’ reactions were hugely positive: Germany and Uhlenhorster HC player Janne Müller-Wieland tweeted: “EHL for women launching in 2020, which means I have to continue to play for at least another two years.”
The Netherlands midfield star Eva de Goede, who plays club hockey for Amsterdam HBC said: “Great work EHF for taking women’s club hockey to the next level #equallyamazing.”
And Georgie Twigg, the former Great Britain and England player, who is a key player for Surbiton, added: “Absolutely amazing news. Great work by EHL Hockey TV and the EHF.”
The move by the European Hockey Federation aligns perfectly with the FIH drive for gender equality at all levels of hockey participation across the globe. This ethos sits at the heart of the FIH 10-year strategy.