Hockey’s origins go back to ancient times. Historical records indicate that a rudimentary form of the discipline was played in Egypt 4,000 years ago, and in Ethiopia around 1,000 B.C., as well as by the Romans, Greeks and Aztecs. However, the modern form of the sport arose in the mid-18th century in the schools of England.
Although the modern sport was created in England, one of the theories about its name is that it comes from the French word “hocquet”, which means “stick”. The first amateur Hockey association was established in London in 1886, and the sport’s influence soon spread not just across Great Britain, but in all British colonies – that is the reason why countries such as India and Pakistan have tradition in the sport.
Hockey’s popularity in the British Empire meant that it debuted at the London 1908 Olympics, as a demonstration sport. After this, however, Hockey entered and left the Olympic programme several times, reappearing at the Stockholm 1912 and at the Antwerp 1920 Games.
However, it was not played at the 1924 Games in Paris, due to the argument that no organisation existed to regulate the sport throughout the world – at that time, the nearest thing that existed was an agreement between Great Britain, Belgium and France to standardise the rules. In the same year, the International Hockey Federation (known by French acronym FIH) was established.
At the Amsterdam 1928 Games, Hockey returned definitively, and medals were awarded for it. Over the years, the sport has gone through changes that have made it even more popular: the number of countries affiliated to the FIH increased and, as of 1976, natural turf Hockey pitches began to be replaced by artificial turf water-based pitches, making the game faster. Women first played at the Olympics at the 1980 edition, in Moscow.
Hockey pitches measure 91.40 x 55.00 metres – a little smaller than soccer pitches – and games have two halves of 35 minutes. Players use a stick, generally made from carbon fibre, Kevlar and fibreglass (composed of 90%, 5% and 5% of each material, respectively). The stick weighs between 350 and 700 grams, and may not exceed 5 cm in diameter. The ball is made from plastic and cork, weighs around 160 g, and is 3 cm in diameter.
Each team has 11 players, including the goalkeeper, who defends a goal 2.14m high and 3.66 m wide. The aim is to score as many goals as possible - although they are only valid if scored inside the shooting circle, which has a 14.63 m radius drawn from the middle of the end line towards the centre of the field.
At the end of 2014, new rules will be implemented in the sport. Matches will now last for 60 minutes, divided into four 15-minute periods. Between the first and second periods, and between the third and fourth periods, there will be a two-minute break. In the middle of matches, between the second and third quarters, there will be a 10-minute break.
Hockey competitions at the Olympic Games have the following format: the 12 participating countries in each event are divided into two groups of six, in which everyone faces each other. The two best teams in each group go through to the semi-finals. The winners play for gold, while the losers compete for bronze.
In the semi-finals and finals, games that end up drawn after the regular length of play have an extension with two halves of seven and a half minutes, and whichever team scores first wins. If there is still a tie at the end of extra time, the match is decided by a penalty shootout of five shots per team. If the scores are still tied, the match is decided by sudden death penalties.