From the desk of the President
Juan Angel Calzado
???? The recent FIH Congress held in Brussels in November was a momentous and memorable event for a number of reasons, not least of all because it saw `a changing of the guard' with the retirement of Etienne Glichitch and my election as FIH President. It would be difficult -- impossible even -- to think that one could replace Etienne Glichitch, who has been so important to the development of hockey world wide. But it would also be a mistake to try.

While I take up the mantle of President with great optimism, I do not intend that my tenure simply be an extension of the previous one. As Etienne himself said in his final message in this publication, `there will be significant changes to the Federation, just as there have been significant changes in my time as president.'

Of course there will be continuity as we carry through on the many exciting developments now underway and continue to address hockey's most challenging issues. But as I have already communicated through a number of channels, certain areas will receive heightened emphasis. These include development of the game, improvement of its technical aspects, improvement of our financial situation through sponsorship and television revenue, promotion of women's hockey and consolidating key relationships both within the hockey family and the international sports world.

There is one issue, however, which I would particularly like to address here, and that is synthetic playing surfaces.

The impact of synthetic surfaces on the game of hockey is unquestionable. They have made our sport faster, smoother, more exciting. They have helped to raise the standard of play at all levels and have given top international players a suitable stage on which to demonstrate their exquisite skill and push the limits of their abilities.

Synthetic surfaces have also provided us, for the most part, a uniformity which translates into equal, consistent playing conditions. It affords us the luxury of keeping to tournament schedules where in the past poor weather conditions could wipe out an entire day's play and throw a timetable into complete disarray. And the need for precision timing -- even down to the very second -- becomes greater in cases where television coverage is a factor. Thankfully for hockey, this is happening more and more frequently.

But for all the benefits we reap from `artificial grass', there are those who would rather see it played on the real thing. It is not because they do not also recognise the benefits, but because of their concerns about cost and availability. The issues were raised again recently in India, understandably, during my first press conference as FIH president. I will repeat here my immediate reply, that these are also major concerns for the FIH, but not insurmountable problems.

The FIH recognises the financial difficulties confronting less wealthy countries and those where hockey is not currently a well-developed sport. But despite the obstacles, we cannot step backwards. We must instead encourage the means through which such countries can acquire synthetic surfaces for use by the majority of players, and not only top internationals. Progress can be achieved in two ways, both of which are being pursued by the FIH.

It must be remembered that top of the line synthetic surfaces are only necessary for top international hockey competitions. At the moment, there is a long list of products sanctioned by the FIH, and among them, more affordable systems better suited to schools and club level play, not to mention their budgets.

To help get these products where they are needed, we are extending our current dialogue with manufacturers to help find affordable solutions for countries with few or no artificial surfaces. Our talks may eventually even include collaboration between manufactures and the FIH Equipment Committee during the product development phase. The FIH wishes to work even closer together with manufacturers and laboratories, and for their part, they have indicated their eagerness to work with us.

The second way in which the FIH will assist is by identifying and investigating the various funding opportunities available to our member associations working in co- operation with Continental Federations and the broader sports world. While the FIH would like to be able to fund our national associations directly, it is just not possible. The workable alternative, then, is to capitalise on our existing relationships and alliances which could prove financially beneficial to our members.

In the recent decision by the IOC to expand the women's Olympic field to 10, we have seen concrete proof of how our efforts and persistence have paid off. To realise the proliferation of synthetic surfaces throughout the world is not a process that will happen over night. It will take time, and of course, co-operation from our National Associations and Continental Federations, but I am optimistic that similar labours in this area will eventually bear fruit as well.

FIH President