According to the Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH), “the roots of hockey are buried deep in antiquity”. 

Historical reports have suggested that there was an existence of early forms of hockey played in Ethiopia(1000 BC) and Persia(2000 BC). Later it was found that the Greeks and Romans too played games that were similar to hockey. East Asia also saw an ancient version where a carved wooden stick and a ball were used in the game. Hockey, in fact, has witnessed origins in Punjab as well in the 17th century under the name Khido Khundi (Khido meaning a woollen ball and Khundi meaning a stick). The word ‘Hockey’ and its entomology doesn’t really have an origin, but it is believed that the word might have originated from the French word ‘hoquet’, which was a French game played with sticks.

Ground billiards: a sport played by ancient Greeks that is considered to be a hockey-like game

Modern field hockey saw an emergence in the mid-18th century in public schools located in England. As the prominence of the game grew, in 1876, the first Hockey Association was formed that set a number of rules to regulate the game. This committee however lasted for only six years. The first international hockey match was played between Ireland and Wales in 1895. Following this match the International Rules Board was founded in 1900.

After the game was officially brought up as a sport, it was included in the Summer Olympics for a period of 10-12 years. But it was dropped by the Olympics in 1924, which encouraged the foundation of the FIH( Fédération Internationale de Hockey), an internal governing body formed by seven European nations. 

India saw Hockey rise as a game for the first time when the British introduced Hockey during their colonial reign. The availability of large plots of land in the country and the game equipment not being too complicated helped Hockey become popular among the children and young adults in India. After the creation of several clubs in states across the country, national competitions were organised like Aga Khan Cup, Beighton Cup, etc. that helped India grow in the sport. The Indian Hockey Federation was formed a year after the FIH was established, in 1925. This organisation marked the beginning of India’s international journey in Hockey as they embarked on  their first ever international tour in New Zealand. India won 18 matches out of the 21 matches played there. Not only was this a huge success but this also saw the emergence of Dhyan Chand, a young hockey player who would later go on to become one of hockey’s greatest. India earned the membership of the FIH and went on to compete in the Summer Olympics of 1928. After that our country went on to become a dominant force in men’s field hockey. The men’s Hockey team managed to win 7 medals(6 gold and 1 silver). India was not the only dominating force, Pakistan too dominated the Olympic event. Observing this dominance, India’s national sport was declared to be Hockey.

The Indian men’s hockey team in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Asian dominance was ruled out once the grass turfs were replaced by the artificial turfs, because artificial turfs gave a flatter surface to play on than the grass ones hence making it suitable for playing hockey. This shift made it difficult for teams like India and Pakistan to compete because they were used to grass pitches.

While men’s hockey was becoming increasingly popular, women’s hockey saw a rise too. 

Women’s Hockey came into the picture in the late 19th century. Many countries encouraged women’s hockey and hence in 1927, the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) was formed. The Indian women’s hockey team made their debut in 1974 and participated in the inaugural women’s Hockey World Cup in 1974 finishing at a respectable fourth position.

The Indian Women’s Hockey Team celebrating their Asian Games gold medal held in New Delhi

Hockey in India saw a period of stagnation from the 1980s to 2008 which was caused firstly due to the change in turfs and secondly due to a lack of infrastructure needed for the game. In 2012, Hockey was also dethroned as India’s national sport, with no other sport until now being assigned the title.

The last few years however have been brilliant for both the men’s and the women’s team. India has developed itself and has achieved a place among  the top 10 teams in men’s as well as women’s hockey worldwide. The men’s team won an Olympic bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics after nearly four decades. While the women’s team missed out on the historic Olympic bronze, they made sure to win a thrilling Bronze medal in the match against New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games 2022. 

The Indian men’s Hockey team posing with their long lost Olympic medal

The women’s team being all smiles after winning the Commonwealth bronze medal

Hockey witnessed  a rebirth in the country, all thanks to the hard work of the players, coaches, and staff. A part of the success also goes to the Odisha government who adopted the sport and now finances the sport and its players. India has had a rich history in Hockey and despite the fall in performance for some years in between  , the hard work and perseverance of the players has once again brought Hockey into the limelight that  it deserves. 
-Rukmini Salodkar

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