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Hockey is the oldest known ball and stick game: records exist of it being played in Persia in 2000 BC. The name “hockey” probably derives from the French “hocquet”, or shepherd’s crook, and refers to the crooked stick which is used to hit a small ball.
The first team was the Blackheath Hockey Club, dating back to 1861. The Amateur Hockey Association was then formed in London in 1886, before workers and the military carried the game to the four corners of the British Empire. It became an Olympic sport in 1908.
Until the 1970s, the game at international level was mainly played on natural grass, but the heavy turf made the game quite slow. When plastic turf was first used, the game suddenly became quicker and more exciting, giving birth to the modern game.
Most of the dominant nations in the sport are, or were, members of the British Empire. This includes India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, England. Other nations have come to the forefront in more recent times to make the game a truly worldwide sport.
After a first appearance at the 1908 Games in London, hockey became a firm fixture on the Olympic programme as from the Antwerp Games in 1920. Women made their entrance in this sport in 1980 at the Moscow Games. Since the 2000 Games in Sydney, men have competed in a 12-team tournament and women in a 10-team one.
In its 100 years of Olympic existence, hockey has been essentially dominated by one country. The Indian men’s team, with six consecutive titles between 1928 and 1956, was unbeaten in 30 consecutive matches, and scored 197 goals, giving away only eight.