As Olympic sports target new and more dynamic youth-focused formats, field hockey is making its move toward a first World Cup for a five-a-side version and one day joining the Summer Games.
The Hockey5s event this weekend in the International Olympic Committee’s home city of Lausanne, Switzerland, will launch senior tournaments for men and women in the shorter format.
Hockey5s is already played at Youth Olympics but has been resisted by some nations who dominate the traditional 11-a-side format and have feared being replaced by the IOC, or even dropped entirely.
“That was the biggest threat to them,” said International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief executive Thierry Weil, who sees a future of adding, not taking away, from the Olympic program.
“If we are clever we can increase the number of medal events” with both formats included, Weil told the Associated Press in a recent interview.
Basketball is a model for the Olympic path field hockey wants to take. At the Tokyo Olympics last year, the 3-on-3 street version of basketball debuted as the IOC pushed to promote urban events.
While the United States swept the gold medals in traditional men’s and women’s basketball, its men did not qualify for the 3-on-3 tournament that was won by Latvia. Mongolia took part in the women's 3-on-3 event that the U.S. did win.
In field hockey, the 12-nation Olympic men’s and women’s tournaments typically involve the same pool of established teams, Weil noted.
He cited Austria and Chile among the FIH’s 141 members that could thrive in Hockey5s. It's designed to be easier and cheaper to develop than the 11-a-side game, which must be played on high-quality turf and grass fields.
“It’s a really good sport,” Weil said of 11-a-side hockey, “it’s an athletic sport with good rules but it’s an elite sport. The investment you need makes it impossible to do (for many nations).”
Hockey5s is designed to be played on school yards, tennis courts and parking lots. The 20-minute games, instead of 60, and perimeter boards to keep the ball in play aim to create faster, higher-scoring games. The two-day Lausanne event will have music as a backdrop to games.
“We need to make it cool for the younger generation,” said Weil, a former marketing director at FIFA.
India has sent sides to the five-team lineups in each of the men’s and women’s competitions in Lausanne.
A traditional hockey power, India is expected to bid to host the 2036 Olympics and is a potential supporter for adding Hockey5s.
The 2032 Olympics is in Brisbane and Australia took men’s hockey silver in Tokyo, where the men’s and women’s tournaments included more than 400 athletes playing over 14 days..
Having fewer 11-a-side teams playing a shorter Olympic tournament would create space for Hockey5s in the FIH’s quota of athletes and venue time at the games, Weil suggested.
After IOC officials see the short format this weekend, a future test for Hockey5s is in January 2024 when Oman hosts an inaugural World Cup.
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