On International Women's Day 2018, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) reflects on what has been an important 12 months for the development of women's hockey which have reaffirmed the sport's claim to be 'Equally Amazing'.
A number of events across the world once again showcased women's hockey at its best. The Sentinel Homes Women’s Hockey World League Final in Auckland in November is a case in point. More than 595 million people were reached through one or more forms of media coverage, with audiences keeping up-to-date with news from the event through television, online streaming, social media platforms or website activity.
FIH itself published 95 articles relating to the event, giving in-depth interviews with players and coaches, daily match reports and roundups and background information pertaining to the Sentinel Homes Women’s Hockey World League Finals. This followed two hugely successful Hockey World League Semi-Finals earlier in the year which obtained mass coverage across the planet.
"Through hockey, they (Indian women's national team athletes have found financial stability, they have well-paying jobs through sports quota and winning major events always helps bring their inspiring stories to the fore.”
Elena Norman, Hockey India CEO
It is within hockey’s own power to drive equality and nowhere is this better illustrated than in India, where success by the women’s team at the 2017 Asia Cup and the subsequent qualification for the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 is fuelling a rise in hockey’s popularity among young women and girls.
This changing attitude is summed up by the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, Rani, who said: "When I started playing hockey, there was very little awareness about women's hockey. Though in Shahbad (Haryana) where I come from, many kids played hockey from a young age, it was not certain whether women could make a career out of it. But over the past decade, Hockey India has promoted women's hockey considerably and our facilities are on par with men's hockey."
Elena Norman, the Chief Executive Officer for Hockey India is also delighted that Hockey India’s strategy is paying off: "The Indian Women's Hockey Team's recent success has given several young and upcoming players a new hope that they too can make their own mark.
"Many of the players in the Indian team come from economically challenged families, some from tribal regions in India while some have beaten the typical patriarchal barriers where women are discouraged from taking up a sport. Through hockey, they have found financial stability, they have well-paying jobs through sports quota and winning major events always helps bring their inspiring stories to the fore.”
A recent event which highlighted just how gender equality is being achieved in our sport was the Women’s Indoor Hockey World Cup in Berlin, Germany.
This event ran alongside the Men’s Indoor Hockey World Cup. Figures show that a capacity crowd of 8,000 people packed the Max-Schmeling Halle in Berlin to watch both the men’s and women’s finals and the coverage throughout the event was equal across all viewing channels. All of which makes for great news when it comes to inspiring a new generation of women and girls to pick up hockey sticks.
Taking a more reflective view of women's hockey, 2017 FIH Hockey Stars Player of the Year Delfina Merino from Argentina described what it meant to her to be a member of Las Leonas when she started out on a hockey career.
She said: “I had a choice as a teenager, tennis, swimming or hockey, but in Argentina, if you become a Leona, it is more than a sport, it is a way of life. It was an obvious and easy choice for me.”
The Argentina captain added that in her country hockey was the number one sporting choice for women and being an international player was the female equivalent of playing for the men’s Argentina football team.
Looking ahead, with London hosting the Vitality Hockey Women’s Hockey World Cup in July and August this year, Chief Executive of England Hockey, Sally Munday, is certain that this mega-watt hockey event will have similar impact to that of the London 2012 Olympics.
“Hosting the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London this summer is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase hockey and provide further inspiration for people to take up the game,” says Munday.
“We have seen the number of girls playing hockey in our clubs double since the London 2012 Olympic Games and we know high profile events like these can be the catalyst for getting more people active and involved in our sport.
“The Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup will dominate the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for almost three weeks this summer with more than 100,000 spectators watching top class women’s sport – we can’t wait!”
For England captain Alex Danson, the forthcoming World Cup recalls her own reasons for taking up the game. “As a young girl I remember my mum taking me along to watch the England team play a test game in Milton Keynes, that memory has been forever etched in my mind and was the first time I remember thinking this was exactly what I wanted to do.
“We live in a time when visibility is key, especially for women and young girls, I believe you can not be what you can not see. Having the best teams from all around the world compete in London I hope will be a memory that all who visit and tune in will never forget and the start for many to get involved.”
Inspiring more women and girls to become involved in hockey, whether as a player, coach, umpire or in a boardroom capacity is one of the key aims of the FIH’s 10-year strategy, the . However, more importantly it is key to the sport maintaining its reputation as being a Equally Amazing for both genders.
With this year's International Women's Day movement calling on action to press forward and progress gender parity, FIH is encouraging everyone involved in our sport to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. Join the movement: #PressForProgress