With the shortened version of the sport on the programme at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) for the second time, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is hoping the format will boost its plan to grow the sport globally.
Innovation is the key to success. This is a mantra particularly relevant to sport, and one that will be put into practice in October when hockey 5s features on the programme for the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, four years after debuting at the YOG Nanjing 2014.
The 5-a-side rather than traditional 11-a-side version of the game, which is played on a smaller pitch, was a big hit in China, and the game’s governing body hopes that the second appearance of hockey 5s at the YOG will bring the sport to a wider audience and increase player numbers.
“The YOG will be a great showcase for hockey 5s and our sport in general,” says Jon Wyatt, the Olympian and former Great Britain international who is the FIH’s new Sport and Development Director. “It’s an exciting format and a shop window for our sport on a global stage.
“The FIH is halfway through a 10-year strategy to increase the profile of hockey, and a core pillar of the plan is to inspire more people to play our game. Hockey 5s is a great way to achieve this, because it’s easier for people at grassroots level to get involved. It’s more flexible in terms of how many players you need and where you can get a game going.
“The message is that you don’t need to find 22 people and a full-size pitch to play. One of the great strengths of football is you only really need a ball and some friends and you’re away, and the FIH wants to replicate that accessibility.”
Wyatt will travel to Argentina later this year for the hockey 5s at the YOG, as Australia and China attempt to defend their respective boys’ and girls’ titles. Twenty teams competed in Nanjing, but Buenos Aires 2018 will see 24 teams in action.
“We’re delighted to see the expansion in numbers,” says Wyatt. “Hockey 5s has already proved very popular, and the FIH envisages that this exciting format will complement the 11-a-side game.
“Lots of sports now have shortened versions – rugby sevens, futsal, T20 cricket and recently GolfSixes – and we are lucky that we have the YOG to further experiment with the format and see what works and what might need further fine-tuning.
“We’ve already made some minor changes compared to Nanjing four years ago, slightly reducing the size of the pitch and the length of each period. This will provide more intensity and make the game even more spectacular. We want to make it as entertaining and accessible as possible.”