Long read: Diet hockey, not just a fad

As far as hockey venues go, this one was new.

A playground right downtown, on the edge of a lake, boats anchored on the marina on one side, surrounded by giant trees with mountains in the distance and a host city that has no tradition or history hockey, aside from being home for the costumes that govern the game.

In this cozy setting, the shortest version of hockey, the 5s, made its senior debut last weekend in Lausanne. All of this – the compact venue, fast and short matches, small squads and overall youthful vibe – was designed to introduce the sport to a new audience. Specifically, to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is based in the Swiss city.

It was, quite simply, a ground to consider 5s as a future Olympic sport. And it has sparked a debate unlike anything hockey has seen in recent history.

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The apprehensions go beyond the usual reproaches that traditionalists have against upstarts. The concern this time is survival. What were once whispers have turned, in some quarters, into rebellious roars that the 5s will eventually replace the traditional 11s version at the Olympics.

International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief executive Thierry Weil dismissed those concerns. “A lot of people are worried that the 5s will replace the 11s at the Olympics. I made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen,” Weil said.

The former FIFA chief’s forceful rebuttal did not appease doubters. And the split in world hockey was evident when the teams landed in Lausanne. The Asian sides – India, Pakistan and Malaysia, usually slow to embrace change – were in full force; the giants of Europe, never shy of innovations in sport, gave it a total snub.

When hockey transitioned from grass to artificial turf in the 1970s, the fundamental nature of the sport remained the same. In 5s, the game as we know it is almost unrecognizable.

As the name suggests, each team is allowed to field five players, including the goalkeeper, and can make four substitutions; a match consists of two halves of 10 minutes each; there is no “D”, which means a goal can be scored from anywhere on the “field” – which is half the size of a normal hockey field – once the player has crossed the halfway line; and the boundary panels can be used to bounce the ball around, giving players the ability to use the speed and angles generated by it in attacking moves.

The ball is only out of play when it passes completely over the boundary boards on the side or end line. This means that stoppages, in most cases, only happen when a player gets injured.

Push for the 5s

We understand why the FIH is pushing this format.

Despite all its history, the 11-a-side game remains a high-investment sport, which has limited growth in most of Asia, Africa and South America. On the field, hockey is enjoying perhaps one of its most competitive eras with one of the top eight men’s teams capable of fighting and countries like France, Ireland and Japan making the occasional splash.

Off the pitch, however, the sport is not in its best shape with website insidethegames.biz reporting that the FIH suffered a loss of almost £500,000 in 2019. There are no takers for the Men’s World Cup, with India set to host the event for the third time in 13 years.

And in the Olympics, it’s one of the few sports that runs for the duration of the Games but offers only two medals, has nearly 400 athletes and struggles with stadium attendance, viewers and fans. social media engagements, all crucial. parameters on which a sport’s place in the Games is now determined.

The FIH has seen what T20 has done for cricket, financially speaking, and how 3×3 basketball has fitted seamlessly into the Olympics alongside the traditional format. He hopes the spectacular sets – like squash, ‘courts’ for 5 can be erected virtually anywhere – combined with easy accessibility, high scores and fast games, will make hockey ‘cool’ for the younger generation. .

For the IOC, which is changing the Olympic program to target young people, lighten the Games and seek to reduce the financial burden on host cities, formats like these are immediately attractive.

“We are extremely pleased that he achieved the goal we wanted. He introduced the sport to a lot of people who didn’t know about it,” Weil said of the Lausanne exhibition, adding that IOC officials were there to study the format. “It exceeded our expectations.”

That may be the case, from a marketing point of view. But the gameplay lacked all of the finer subtle elements that make hockey exciting to watch. Games were quick with plenty of goals scored, but there was little body feinting or dribbling, or even clever building play. Most of the time, the ball was slapped in the direction of the goal from distance, which raised security concerns.

Rejection from Europe

The European giants kept their distance, not wanting to give the tournament any legitimacy. This could be due to most players’ unfamiliarity with this concept, coupled with the fact that top players and teams weren’t part of the event.

The Hockey Paper reported that Germany and Belgium planned to send a squad of former big names but decided against it after the European Hockey Clubs Association told them not to take part. under national flags. Spain, according to the report, did not send a team as some of the country’s top clubs objected to the format while England and the Netherlands also stayed away.

EHCO founder Leandro Martínez Zurita said he didn’t want to promote the end of 11. “If they (European nations) had sent teams under flags, the FIH would use it to promote Hockey 5 and market it as a big hit,” he told The Hockey Paper.

Weil said the reactions from European nations were “understandable” and “potentially unnatural”, given that those nations helped develop the traditional format. “But I am convinced that after a while they will come,” he said.

Indian hug

India was slow to get started when this format debuted at the 2014 Youth Olympics. However, the country has since finished on the podium at the 2018 Youth Olympics and has started hosting tournaments. national level – partly because the FIH is currently led by an Indian – Narinder Batra.

India’s adoption of the format is also crucial as the IOC meeting where the program for the Los Angeles Olympics is expected to be finalized will be held in Mumbai next year. Batra, after his re-election last year, said it was his “dream” to see 5s at the Olympics. Even Weil said that should be the “ultimate” goal. “(But) like other sports that have two different formats at the Olympics, we could have both, 11 and 5,” he added.

N Ramachandran, Narinder Batra, International Olympic Committee, International Hockey Federation Narinder Batra. (Case)

For that to happen, something will have to give. The IOC has been strict in ensuring that the total number of participants per sport does not increase dramatically with each Games. To stay within the allocated quota, Weil suggested that a potential way to create space for 5s at the Olympics could be to reduce the number of teams to 11, which currently stands at 12.

Weil says a decision to include the format in the Olympics will only be made if the 5 becomes “relevant and accepted”. However, it is speculated that the Olympic ground could take place as early as the Games in Los Angeles in 2028, given the FIH’s aggressive marketing campaign – coincidentally the first senior 5s tournament took place exactly a year before the officials’ meeting of the IOC in Mumbai.

This gives the FIH a year to further showcase the sport’s shortest format and bring European nations into the fold of the 5. “Over a period of time they will join,” Weil says. “I will continue to promote Hockey 5 to them.”

The Rules of Hockey 5s

* A match lasts 20 minutes, divided into two halves of 10 minutes each.

* Each team can field 5 players and make four substitutions.

* The playing field is about half the size of a regular court.

* There is no ‘D’ around the goal. Thus, a goal can be scored from anywhere on the pitch by the striker from his attacking half of the pitch.

* Unlike 11-a-side hockey, when play is stopped and restarted if the ball goes out of play, in 5s the ball can hit the perimeter boards and come back into play, non-stop. The ball is considered out of play only if it goes beyond the boundary boards.

* There are no penalty corners in 5s. However, a penalty stroke may be awarded.

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