The International Hockey Federation (FIH) on Saturday gave its nod to play international matches between lower ranked teams on grass instead of the artificial turf with the aim to expand the game to various corners of the world and also cleared the deck for India to participate in the 2021 Hockey Pro League.

The 2021 Hockey Series Open, a second-tier event for lower ranked nations to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics will have some of its matches played on grass, confirmed FIH CEO Thierry Weil on the sidelines of the FIH Congress in New Delhi on Saturday.

At present, all international hockey matches have to be played on artificial turf that has been certified by FIH.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Weil said, “Right now, the perception is that hockey is a bit elitist. We want to change that by allowing developing countries to play on grass turfs instead of artificial ones. Only a handful of countries might be able to afford turfs. That should not stop the rest from playing the game.

“The amount of water required for an artificial turf and it’s maintenance is also high,” said Weil adding they were in talks with multiple stakeholders on how to reduce costs of holding hockey matches in developing nations.

Among the other decisions taken at the Congress, Weil confirmed that India will be a part of the 2021 Hockey Pro League. The 2021 tournament will be the second edition with the first one starting on January 19, 2019 with Spain hosting Belgium in Valencia.

“Yes, India will be a part of 2021. We have not decided what the format will be. The easiest thing would be to include India as the 10th team, however we will take a call on this towards the end of this tournament cycle.”

India had pulled out of the first edition of the marquee 9-nation tournament to be held in a two-year cycle between the world’s top hockey teams.

When asked if the tournament would be an open-to-all affair in later editions, Weil said, “Right now, it’s a closed affair with fixed teams. In my opinion, it should not be.”

The FIH CEO also admitted that the 5-a-side format which was played in the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympics was immensely popular and was a gateway to get more nations to play the sport. However, he ruled out the possibility of the shorter format replacing the 11-a-side format in official tournaments. He did say that having the shorter format would reduce costs as teams would have to name a 9-man-squad instead of 23.

A former employee of Fifa, Weil also said the World Cup was unlikely to undergo a football style expansion from the current 16 as FIH would have to look at the quality of play as well.