Top field hockey stars hit pay dirt in India

Field hockey players are set for a financial windfall when they take part in a new tournament from Monday that is inspired by cricket's popular Twenty20 leagues.

The Hockey India League (HIL), sanctioned by the sport's world governing body, will have top stars from around the world turn out for five city-based franchises over the next four weeks to February 10.

The 34-match league offers players lucrative fees and promises to raise field hockey's profile back to its old heights in India, before a string of poor results saw its fan base fade.

India, who won the last of their eight Olympic field hockey gold medals at the Moscow Games in 1980, failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008 and finished last in London.

But that did not prevent companies from splurging on hiring players at the HIL's auction in New Delhi last month, which drew extensive coverage from the usually cricket-obsessed media.

Indian captain Sardar Singh was picked up by the Delhi Wave Riders franchise, owned by a property developer, for $78,000 per tournament over the next three years.

Moritz Fuerste, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) player of the year for 2012 after helping Germany win two successive Olympic golds in Beijing and London, went to the Ranchi Rhinos for $75,000.

Dutch veteran Teun de Nooijer, 36, was sold to the Uttar Pradesh Wizards for $66,000, while the Punjab Warriors bought Australian striker Jamie Dwyer for $60,000.

The Mumbai Magicians, the fifth franchise in the fray, have Indian defender Sandeep Singh and national goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh as their star players.

Sardar, Sandeep, Fuerste, de Nooijer and Dwyer, who were all named marquee players by their respective franchises, will be paid an additional sum which is 15 percent higher than the next player in their teams.

Franchise owners include the Sahara conglomerate, a long-time sponsor of sport in India, and the Jaypee group, which built the infrastructure for the country's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix.

Each of the five squads has 10 foreign and 14 Indian players for the televised tournament, which de Nooijer says will transform the world of hockey.

"This league is not only important for India but will be a game changer in the sport around the world," the Dutch star said. "Field hockey needed such a tournament to boost its profile."

Dwyer, a five-time FIH player of the year, said he was delighted that money had finally come into his sport.

"This is the best fee that I have been offered for a month of hockey," the 33-year-old Queenslander said. "We work as hard as the cricketers and the footballers, so why should we not be paid as well as them?"

Among the renowned coaches signed up by the franchises are Ric Charlesworth and Barry Dancer of Australia, and Roelant Oltmans of the Netherlands.

The HIL follows the launch last year of the unsanctioned World Series Hockey, another big-money event organised by the rebel Indian Hockey Federation that opposes the official Hockey India.

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