Field hockey is not only a women’s game. It is played extensively by men in parts of Europe, India, and Pakistan, some parts of South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and sometimes in Latin America. The top-ranked 2019 international men’s teams according to The Federation of International Hockey are:
- New Zealand
Sometimes after playing field hockey in the UK, I’m teased in the pub after the match and told that field hockey is a women’s game. I usually show the comedian a few ugly bruises on my body and wide eyes replace a sneering face. Maybe it’s down to schooling in the UK I pondered. After all, nothing will budge rugby, football tennis and athletics for boys while girls only have athletics and netball to really compete with hockey. This is exasperated when men’s rugby, soccer tennis, and athletics get massive TV coverage and the upshot is hockey as a man’s game is pushed farther to the margins. Meanwhile, the success of the British women’s team places field hockey as a women’s sport further into the spotlight.
The same kind of story can be seen in the U.S. Not much could budge US football, basketball, athletics, and baseball from the mainstream men’s sports, while women do have athletics and tennis, field hockey is a viable third sport for them.
History comes into play in countries like Argentina. Field hockey is an established women’s game where some girls become superstars like the dribbling Queen, Luciana Aymar. A good reason for this is hockey clubs are usually adjoined to rugby clubs and throughout history, boys played rugby and girls played field hockey. Men becoming superstars at hockey is unheard of. Even when men in Argentina do play field hockey one look round the stands at the many women in attendance will reinforce the opinion field hockey is a women’s game.
To be fair, in the UK men’s field hockey is overall an accepted men’s sport. Although it’s not massively popular compared with rugby, soccer, and athletics, the standards are high, and almost every town has a men’s club or even several clubs. I remember enjoying playing it at school on an uneven grass pitch. It was always a great experience, the several times we could get to play a year. Often we would even play mixed field hockey in the summer. The girls played more than us so were usually technically better, although we had a physical advantage. It didn’t matter who won as who doesn’t enjoy a team game, that tests your speed, strength, and skills and lets you run about at top speed- I know I do?
The ironic factor is field hockey is a pretty rough sport where you can’t be a sissy to play it well. The Dutch, Australian, New Zealand, Pakistani, Indian, and British men (to name a few) excel at the sport. Still, in none of those countries is hockey the number one sport for men. However, hockey can be called the women’s number one sport in the U.S. Netherlands, and Argentina.
Maybe the popularity has nothing to do with perceptions of ‘hardness’ and alternative distractions but more to do with costs. After all, soccer is practically free to play. Hockey gear is quite expensive for some people. If other major men’s sports demand expensive gear like cricket bats, tennis rackets perhaps field hockey purchases are a shopping list too far for some school kid’s parents.
Eras and opinions change. In the 1800’s field hockey was a taboo for women in Europe and India. It was deemed to be too rough a sport for gentlewomen. Who knows one day soon maybe the global conventions will change and men around the world will opt for the drag flick over the slam dunk.