Womens Sports History

A History of Hockey – Part 2

In part two of A History of Hockey, Penny Hopkins takes us around the world to where and how women first became involved in the sport

The development of women’s field hockey is evident and ubiquitous on every continent, and at all levels. Domestic leagues, cups and international tournaments abound and governance structures are now well established and comprehensive.

RELATED: A History of Hockey – Part 1

Although the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) was formed in 1927, many countries of continental Europe initially did not join. Instead, their women played as sections of the men’s association and were, therefore, affiliated to the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Attempts had been made to standardise rules in 1886, but the first rule book did not appear until 1900 when the International Rules Board was formed in London.

Each European country has its own domestic hockey league, which would take too long to go into here, but the development of national sides and their debut in international fixtures provides a guide to the game’s expansion.

The first international women’s match anywhere was between Ireland and England and took place in Dublin in 1896 where the hosts won 2-0.

England Hockey Team in 1896

England Hockey Team in 1896

Amongst the other early starters were Belgium who played their first international in 1924 against France at Lille, and the Netherlands, who played Belgium in Brussels in their first match in 1926.

Germany’s maiden international was in Cologne in 1930 against Australia, which the home side won 3-2. Spain made their international debut in Berlin against Germany in 1936, losing 11-2.

1936 Girls Hockey Team

 1936 Girls Hockey Team

Surprisingly, the first televised women’s match was England versus Wales in 1938.
It took other European countries a while to get started in the international arena. Italy didn’t play its first international until 1974 against Switzerland in Zurich. Poland’s first foray into the international game was against Czechoslovakia at Zloty Moravce in 1977 where they were comprehensibly defeated 12-0.

In 1984, the inaugural EuroHockey tournament was held in Barcelona.

RELATED: Women’s Sports History

North America and Canada
Hockey has a long history in Canada and was well established in British Columbia by the end of the nineteenth century. Schools were already starting to play at the turn of the century, with the first recorded being between a girls’ team and boys’ team in 1903 at Vancouver High School.

British Columbia remains the major focus for hockey in Canada, but it also started to flourish in Calgary, Toronto, Halifax and Newfoundland from the early 1900s and today still has a thriving club structure.

On the international scene, Canada made its international debut at a tournament in 1956 and attended its first World Cup in 1978 in Madrid, where they finished fifth. They were runners-up in 1983 and finished third in 1986.

Vancouver Team - Early 1900s

Vancouver  Women’s Team – Early 1900s

Canada is currently ranked 18th in the world.

Interestingly though their neighbors the USA have more women playing hockey than men, in fact women led the way to establishing the game in North America. The game was actually introduced by an English physical education instructor; Constance Applebee. She brought the game to the U.S. in 1901 while attending a seminar at Harvard University. The first women’s teams were formed by U.S. women’s colleges and by the early 1920s the sport was widespread.


While Applebee coached the first U.S. national team on their tour of England in 1920, the USA did not make an appearance at an FIH sanctioned tournament until 1983 when they finished sixth in the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

The USA is currently 6th in the world rankings.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Argentina is the hockey powerhouse of South America where the game was introduced by English immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century and the first women’s teams were formed in 1909.

A women’s hockey competition was instituted as part of the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1986. The winner of this tournament qualifies for the Pam American Games. The women’s game made its debut at the Pan American Games in 1987 and was a qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games.

The Pan American Cup was first contested in 2001. The winner of this qualifies for the next World Cup. Argentina has an unbeaten record in the Pan Am Cup.


In 2003, the Women’s South American Championship was established and Argentina has dominated this tournament too until 2016 when Uruguay took the title, with Chile runners up, probably because Argentina did not take part.

Australia and New Zealand

Being the sporting nation that it is, Australia is at the forefront of women’s hockey. Its first games were played in 1901 and the first women’s club, the Wandah Club in Sydney, was formed in 1903. By 1907, there were clubs in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria and by 1909 inter-state matches were being played. In 1910 the All Australian Women’s Hockey Association was formed.

Australia’s first overseas tour was to South Africa and Rhodesia in 1930, when they competed in an Empire tournament.

The first inter-state championship started in 1946, ending in 1967. Western Australia was the outstanding team during this time winning all but five editions, either on its own or sharing it with another.

In 1914 the Hockeyroos played their first international against England, and in 1927 England toured Australia, playing three test matches and an interstate tournament. England won every game on the tour.


Australia’s first overseas tour was to South Africa and Rhodesia in 1930, when they competed in an Empire tournament. They made their Hockey World Championship debut at the 1936 tournament in the United States.

In 1959 Australia won its first international tournament at the Holland Tournament and have never really looked back.

In part three we will look at the growth of international tournaments in which Australia plays a significant role.

New Zealand
New Zealand saw its first women’s hockey in the 1880s and the first inter-provincial match was held in 1899. Its initial governing body, the Women’s Hockey Association, was formed in 1908.

New Zealand Black Sticks

New Zealand Black Sticks

Before the First World War, hockey was the most popular sport for women, but by the 1920s its popularity had waned as netball took over. It was, however, the first team sport played at international level by women. The first game came against an English touring team in 1914 but nowadays, although it is considered a minority sport in New Zealand.

The Black Sticks are currently ranked fifth in the world.

The FIH has 21 African countries as registered members. These stretch from Morocco and Egypt in the north to South Africa and Botswana in the south.

There are several initiatives underway, particularly in West Africa, to develop hockey.

Its major tournament is the AFHF African Cup for Nations, which is contested by men and women. It is the main qualifying route for the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Some African countries also take part in the World League, Youth Olympic Games and African Club Championships. Access to artificial turf pitches is limited but this has not stopped South Africa from reaching 13th in the world rankings.

There are several initiatives underway, particularly in West Africa, to develop hockey. Ghana has been a major participant in this scheme and, as a result, is currently Africa’s second highest ranking country at 28th. To put this into perspective, Ghana has only one artificial turf pitch in the whole country, while in England there are more artificial pitches than there are clubs.

There are 30 countries affiliated to the Asian Hockey Federation, although not all of these may have a women’s team. The traditional stars of Asian hockey are India. After they won the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup they earned the nickname “Golden Girls of Hockey”— a name that has stuck with them ever since.

Although they are usually well up there in the world rankings, India has recently been overtaken by other Asian countries.

India Hockey


Domestic hockey is widespread in India and it was only a matter of time before it made its debut on the world stage. Its breakthrough performance came at the 1974 Women’s Hockey World Cup where they finished fourth. Since then India has finished consistently among the top places in the Asian Games, Hockey Asia Cup and the Afro- Asian Games.

Indeed, the women’s game became so popular in India that in 2007 a Bollywood film was made about it, “Chak De! India”, starring Shah Rukh Khan.

Although they are usually well up there in the world rankings, India has recently been overtaken by other Asian countries.

China currently lies 8th in the rankings, Japan 9th and South Korea 10th with India in 12th.

The other three are relative latecomers to the game with all of them first taking part in tournaments in the 1980s or early 1990s. But they have been a part of the general explosion in sport in the Far East over the last thirty years and are reaping the benefits of investment with a string of excellent results.

So, it’s official – hockey is everywhere—and with the expansion of the game has come a proliferation of tournaments, some continent-wide and others worldwide.

In part two we have taken a glimpse at these competitions, but in part three we look at when and where they happen, who takes part, and who can claim to be most consistent.


Photos: Commons Wikipedia/Aus Hockey/NZ Hockey
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kent Politsch

    September 2, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Is there a roster of the 1920 U.S. women’s all star team coached by Constance Applebee that played the British team in England and lost two games? I would like to know the names of the participants for the United States.

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