Penny Hopkins explores how the sport has developed continental and global competitions increasing both its participation and fan base while creating new champions
In part two we saw that hockey has come to thrive, not only through domestic leagues and tournaments but through the development of continent-wide and worldwide tournaments. In this, the third part of our history, we look more closely at these tournaments; who the winners and losers are and how a vibrant grassroots game contributes to international success.
For many sports there can be no doubt that the pinnacles to reach are the Olympic Games and World Cup. In hockey, qualification for the Games or World Cup may depend on a countries’ performances in their own continental tournaments. Very often only the event winners will make it onto the world stage.
RELATED: A History of Hockey – Part 1 & 2
In Europe, the trophy to play for is the EuroHockey Nations Championship. The women’s tournament began in 1984 and its inaugural winners (and dominant force thereafter) were the Netherlands. It started as a four-yearly event, but since 2007 has switched to bi-annually. Since its inception, The Netherlands has won it eight times and twice been runner-up. Germany has won it twice and been runner-up five times and England have won it twice and finished second twice. In the 12 tournaments so far the winning side has come from just these three nations.
There are several tournaments that incorporate both North America and South America. The Pan American Cup has been contested since 2001. The number of years between events seems to vary but to date the winners haven’t. Argentina has won each of the four events so far, with the fifth edition due to be held in Lancaster, USA in 2017. On each occasion, the USA has been runner-up, but perhaps this will change this year with America playing host for the first time. The winners of the Pan American Cup qualify for the next World Cup.
The North and South American nations also play in the Pan American Games, which are held the year before the Olympic Games and, for hockey, are the qualifying tournament for the Olympics.
The 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru will comprise 37 sports
Although the Games has been taking place since 1951, hockey did not make an appearance — and only for men only — until 1967. Women’s hockey debuted twenty years later in 1987 with the first winners being, not surprisingly, Argentina. They won the next five titles until in 2011 their winning streak was broken by the USA who won in Mexico, beating the former champions 4-2 in the final. The USA also took the title in 2015 in Canada, when they again defeated Argentina, this time 2-1.
There have now been seven South American Women’s Championships. Argentina has won all but the last in 2016 – which in Argentina’s absence was won by Uruguay with Chile as runners-up.
Australia has taken every Commonwealth gold medal; except one which went to India in 2002
Australia and New Zealand are the outstanding teams in Oceania hockey; its major tournament is the Oceania Cup which is held every two years. Unfortunately for hockey development in the region, no-one but Australia and New Zealand seems to get a look in. Since it began in 1999 the tournament — held every two years — has been won by Australia six times and New Zealand three with the other team finishing runner-up on each occasion. In fact, until 2007 there were only the two teams at the event. Since then the number has varied from two to four. The winner receives entry into either the World Cup or Olympic Games depending on the cycle.
With a lack of nearby competitors, Australia and New Zealand have to rely on the World Cup, Olympic Games, World League and Champions Trophy to challenge them, as well as the Commonwealth Games. Australia has taken every Commonwealth gold medal; except one which went to India in 2002.
South Africa dominates both gender’s games of the AFHF Africa Cup for Nations. The women’s event began in 1990 with the first won by Zimbabwe. The subsequent six tournaments have all been won by South Africa. The winner qualifies for the World Cup or Olympic Games.
Asia appears to be awash with tournaments as they compete for the Hockey Asia Cup and the Hockey Asia Champions Trophy as well as at the multi-sport Asian Games. The Cup began for women in 1985. Its first winner was South Korea. Since then there have been seven more events with South Korea winning two, China two, Japan two and India one.
The current top five Asian teams take part in the Asian Hockey Champions Trophy. South Korea won the first in 2010 and the second a year later. Japan took the third on home soil in 2013 and the most recent title went to India in 2016.
The Asian Games saw the introduction of men’s hockey in 1958 but women didn’t make their debut until 1982. India won the first title when it was held in New Delhi but since then, South Korea and China have dominated — the former with four wins and the latter with three.
In total, 21 nations have qualified for the Olympic Games since women’s hockey was introduced in 1980
So it appears that the continent-wide contest is thriving. But it is at the global tournaments — the World Cup and the Olympic Games — that we really get to see competition in all its strength and glory. These two tournaments are undoubtedly the sport’s biggest stages, but in addition hockey also has a World League and the Champions Trophy.
In total, 21 nations have qualified for the Olympic Games since women’s hockey was introduced in 1980. Zimbabwe became the first Olympic Champion, and at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Great Britain won their first gold. In between there have been three wins for The Netherlands, three for Australia, one for Spain and one for Germany.
As a GB supporter, I’d have to say that watching Team GB secure that gold medal in the penalty shoot-out at Rio was one of my absolute Olympic highlights.
The thirteen women’s World Cups held since 1974 have only seen four winners out of 28 nations that have competed at different times. The Netherlands is the outstanding team, having won it seven times. No-one else really comes close — Argentina has two wins to their credit as do Australia and Germany. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has tinkered with the format and in 2018 it will expand once more to 16 teams. Beyond that they are looking into expanding it again, possibly to 24 in 2022.
The Champions Trophy began as a men’s annual event in 1974 with the women’s biennial event beginning in 1987. The 2018 tournament however, in Changzhou, China, will be the last as the Hockey World League has surpassed it in popularity. Argentina will probably lament its demise as they have won seven titles, with The Netherlands and Australia having won six each. The only other countries to have registered a win are Germany, China and South Korea.
Hockey World League
The Hockey World League is a different beast altogether. It runs over two years and is the qualifier for both the World Cup and the Olympic Games. There are four rounds for each competition with round one organised into regions. The top teams do not have to play this round but qualify straight away for round two or semi-final event, depending on their ranking. There have been no surprises in winners so far though with Argentina winning the inaugural World League in 2012-13 and The Netherlands the second in 2014-15.
We can see that success comes through investment as in any sport. The big winners are those who have, or can afford to, put the resources into the game. It’s not necessarily the case that a long history in the sport will guarantee success; it’s more a question of commitment. To a degree the divide will always be between the haves and have-nots, but as often proves to be the case — success breeds success. This is particularly true in women’s sport, which will usually only receive funding, investment, sponsorship and coverage if it has already reached a certain level.
The Netherlands, Australia, Great Britain and Argentina have built on their history of successes and now the sport has gained a level of popularity few would have thought possible only a few years ago. Players are now household names and, as with most women’s sport, while the dedicated few may turn out to watch club hockey every week, the audience for internationals is much, much wider.
There are no easy answers for those countries on the verge of breaking into the international game but in part four we look at the future for hockey and how, more than many other sports, developments in the playing equipment and environment have been crucial to its survival, and ultimately, its progress as a sport.
Penny Hopkins is a freelance journalist and writer from the UK, specialising in women’s sport. Her passions are cricket and the political and social issues surrounding women’s sport. She believes that women are underrepresented in all areas of sport, that it’s time the balance was redressed and is proud to be helping to do just that.