The continuing construction work at Marrakech’s international airport is evidence of Morocco’s determination to turn its historic, cultural and natural assets into first-choice tourist destinations.
The investment in the airport will ultimately see it able to handle close to five million passengers a year, a remarkable jump from the 1.5 million or so that came just a few years ago.
Among those joining the tourists in the arrivals hall at Marrakech in late October were delegates of the FIH (International Hockey Federation) Congress, hosted by the city for the first time. And they too had their eyes on a big prize – the future of their sport.
This was in every respect a critical event for the hockey family, and its theme was chosen to underscore exactly why; the ‘Hockey Revolution’ was launched, with every delegate cast in the role of a revolutionary – some with more willingness than others.
That revolutionary forces are at work in hockey may come as a surprise to casual observers, whose perceptions of the sport are formed by casual glimpses of major crowds watching the Hockey World Cup and hockey at the Olympic Games.
However, an exemplary Olympic tournament at London 2012 was doused by a cold shower of reality in 2013 when the IOC (International Olympic Committee) downgraded hockey by a tier, meaning decreased Olympic funding and even more pressure on budgets for development programmes.
But under the leadership of Spanish president Leandro Negre and CEO Kelly Fairweather, the FIH has accepted the gauntlet thrown down by the IOC to re-shape the sport to make it fit for purpose in the dog-eat-dog world of 21st-century sport.
The FIH is not alone. Almost every small and mid-sized international federation faces much the same issues, and each is desperate to find ways of securing the media exposure that will attract audiences which in turn lure sponsors. At the same time, the fervent hope is that achieving a wider media audience will allow the stars of the sport to shine through and inspire a new generation who will embrace the sport and ensure that its flame does not die.
That is the virtuous circle every federation wants to break into and, in the case of hockey and its band of revolutionaries, there is a willingness to examine, review and challenge every aspect of the operation to find a solution.
They will be greatly assisted by having the media element of this equation already in place. Last year, the FIH signed a $250-million deal with Indian broadcaster STAR to cover its major events from 2015. The deal was described at the FIH Congress as a game-changer and will see STAR invest to deliver a far more sophisticated TV product which it will then distribute globally, greatly enhancing the sport’s footprint.
The hope and expectation is that with a high-quality and widespread TV output in place, fresh thinking being applied to its marketing and new partnership acquisition strategies will create the positive forward momentum to enable the sport to grow.
Hockey has many assets. Its leading players are tremendous athletes who demonstrate their skills on surfaces built to bring the best out of them. Consequently, the game is exciting and looks great. It is also played equally by men and women and the admission of new nation members at this year’s congress is evidence that it continues to grow. But revolution is needed to create solidarity among FIH members to accept the need for change and create excitement about implementing it.
In many ways, international hockey and Marrakech have something in common. Both are blessed with inherent assets and both are prepared to embrace change and invest to realise their potential.
So, as President Negre told delegates: “Viva la revolución”.