As Olympic sports target new and more dynamic youth-focused formats, field hockey is moving toward a first World Championship for a five-a-side version and one day at the Summer Games.
This weekend’s Hockey5s event in the hometown of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, kicks off senior tournaments for men and women in the shorter format.
Hockey5s is already played at Youth Olympic Games but has been rejected by some nations that dominate the traditional 11v11 format and feared being replaced or even dropped altogether by the IOC.
“That was the biggest threat to them,” said International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief executive Thierry Weil, who sees the future in expanding the Olympic program, not cutting it.
Basketball is a role model for the Olympic path that field hockey aspires to follow. The 3-on-3 street version of basketball made its debut at last year’s Tokyo Olympics as the IOC pushed to promote city events.
While the United States won the gold medals in men’s and women’s traditional basketball, their men did not qualify for the 3-on-3 tournament, which was won by Latvia. Mongolia took part in the women’s 3v3 event, which the USA won.
In field hockey, the men’s and women’s 12-nation Olympic tournaments typically draw on the same pool of established teams, Weil noted.
He named Austria and Chile among the 141 members of the FIH who could be successful in Hockey5s. It is easier and cheaper to develop than the 11 vs 11 game that needs to be played on high quality turf and grass fields.
“It’s a really good sport,” Weil said of 11-on-11 hockey, “It’s an athletic sport with good rules, but it’s a high-level sport. The investments you need make it impossible [for many nations].”
Make room for a new format
Hockey5s is designed to be played in school yards, tennis courts and parking lots. The 20 minute games instead of 60 minutes and the boundary boards to keep the ball in play aim to create faster, higher scoring games. The two-day event in Lausanne will accompany the games with music.
“We have to make it cool for the younger generation,” said Weil, a former director of marketing at FIFA.
India, a traditional ice hockey power, is expected to bid to host the 2036 Olympics and is a potential backer for hosting Hockey5s.
The 2032 Olympics will be held in Brisbane, and Australia took silver in men’s hockey in Tokyo, where the men’s and women’s tournaments featured more than 400 athletes playing over 14 days.
Fewer 11-on-11 teams playing a shorter Olympic tournament would make room for Hockey5s in the quota of FIH athletes and game venues, Weil suggested.
After IOC officials saw the short format this weekend, a future test for Hockey5s is in January 2024 when Oman hosts an inaugural World Cup.