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Hockey takes its name from the French word hocquet – meaning a shepherd’s crook, in reference to the curved shape of a hockey stick – and has roots going all the way back to Antiquity. History suggests that an early form of the sport was practised 4,000 years ago in Egypt, with variations played in Ethiopia (1000 BC) and Iran (2000 BC). 

Various museums report that a form of the game was played by the Romans and Greeks as well as the Aztecs several centuries before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World.

Modern hockey emerged in England in the mid-19th century and is largely attributed to the growth of private schools such as Eton. The first Hockey federation was created in the UK in 1876 and established the first set of rules of the game.

Gender balance is a core value of hockey ; of the 30 million players in the world, 51% are women and 49% are men.

Brief overview of the rules

Speed, technical skills and fun are the main characteristics of hockey, an exciting and dynamic sport that requires endurance and great coordination. A hockey match lasts 60 minutes. It consists of 4 periods of 15 minutes. On the pitch, each team has eleven players, including forwards, midfielders, defenders, and goalkeeper. Each player can be replaced at any time and as often as desired. A team can choose to play without a goalkeeper (temporarily, in principles). The team scoring the most goals win. In knockout matches, a shootout session separates the two teams.

In its early form, field hockey was played on natural grass, but the heavy turf made the game slower. The decision to move to synthetic turf intended to modernise the game, making it quicker. The pitch is also watered, which means the ball travels at an even faster pace.

Athletes use a hook-shaped stick, with which they drive, control, and hit a hard ball. Only the flat side of the stick can be used. The convex side is not allowed. Except for goalkeepers, players are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands or feet.

A fault can lead the referee to inflict a green card (2 minutes of suspension), yellow (5 minutes of suspension) or red (exclusion) to the player concerned. A hockey pitch is 91.40m long and 55m wide. The goals, located at each end, are surrounded by a D-shaped shooting area. Goals can only be scored from inside the opponent’s shooting area.

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Olympic history

Hockey made its first appearance at the 1908 Games in London, before making its final entry into the program in 1928 in Amsterdam. The women’s game was introduced at the 1980 Moscow Games.

Given its contemporary Anglo-Saxon roots, modern hockey has been dominated by current and former members of the British Commonwealth, such as India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and, of course, Great Britain. Throughout its 100 years at the Olympics, one country has proven to be the most overwhelmingly dominant: India.  India’s men’s team has proved to be the most overwhelmingly dominant at the Olympic Games, having won eight golds and six consecutive titles between 1928 and 1956 and throughout this period, the team enjoyed an impressive run of 30 wins, scoring 197 goals and conceding just eight. However, other countries – such as Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain and France – have now made their way into the top international rankings, making the sport truly global.

At the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, Belgium in the men’s category and the Netherlands in the women’s category won the gold medal.

Events in 2024

The Paris 2024’s hockey tournaments will take place between the 27th of July and the 9th of August.

  • Hockey tournament (women’s / men’s)

Venue in 2024

International organisation

International Hockey Federation

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