Field hockey pushes 5-a-side format towards Olympic goal

As Olympic sports target new, more dynamic youth-focused formats, field hockey is heading for a first World Cup for a five-man version and one day joins the Summer Games.

The Hockey5s event this weekend in the International Olympic Committee’s hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland will kick off senior tournaments for men and women in the shorter format.

5-a-side hockey is already played at the Youth Olympics, but has met with resistance from some nations who dominate the traditional 11-a-side format and have feared being replaced by the IOC or even abandoned altogether.

“That was the biggest threat to them,” said International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief executive Thierry Weil, who sees a future of adding, not removing, the Olympic programme.

“If we’re smart, 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 that field hockey wants to take. At the Tokyo Olympics last year, the 3-on-3 version of street basketball debuted as the IOC pushed to promote street events.

While the United States won the gold medals in traditional men’s and women’s basketball, their men did not qualify for the 3-on-3 tournament won by Latvia. Mongolia competed in the women’s 3-on-3 event which the United States won.

In field hockey, the men’s and women’s 12-nation Olympic tournaments usually involve the same group of established teams, Weil noted.

He named Austria and Chile among the 141 FIH members who could thrive in Hockey5. It is designed to be easier and cheaper to develop than the 11-a-side game, which must be played on high quality grass and grass pitches.

“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 (for many countries).

Hockey5s is designed to be played in schoolyards, tennis courts and parking lots. 20-minute games, instead of 60, and perimeter panels to keep the ball in play aim to create faster, higher-scoring games. The two-day event in Lausanne will have music as the backdrop to the games.

“We have to make it cool for the younger generation,” said Weil, a former FIFA marketing director.

India sent teams into the five-team rosters in each of the men’s and women’s competitions in Lausanne.

Traditional hockey powerhouse India is set to bid to host the 2036 Olympics and is a potential supporter of adding Hockey5.

The 2032 Olympics are in Brisbane and Australia won silver in men’s hockey in Tokyo, where the men’s and women’s tournaments featured over 400 athletes playing over 14 days.

Having fewer 11-a-side teams playing a shorter Olympic tournament would create space for Hockey5 in the FIH athlete quota and time at the games site, Weil suggested.

After IOC officials see the short format this weekend, a future test for Hockey5 will take place in January 2024, when Oman hosts a first World Cup.

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