Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Olympic Hockey at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

When do the Olympic Hockey matches take place at Tokyo 2020 in 2021, and where? What is the history of hockey at the Olympic Games? Which stars can you expect to see? Find out here.
By David Childs

Hockey is one of 33 sports that will take place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. But who are the ones to watch? When will competition take place, and where will it be held? Ever wanted to know about the sport’s Olympic history? Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic hockey.

Olympic Hockey Format at Tokyo 2020

Men’s and women’s hockey follow the same format at Tokyo 2020, with 12 nations in both competitions. This consists of Japan, who qualify automatically as hosts but also as Asian champions (for both men and women), the four continental trophy winners plus seven teams from the 2019 FIH Olympic Qualifiers.

The 12 nations will be split into two round-robin groups of six, where the top four teams from each group will progress to the quarterfinals.

In hockey, three points are awarded for a win, and one for a draw. Once the groups are decided it is a standard, single-match knockout until the final, along with a bronze-medal match between the two semi-final losers.

Belgian hockey player Thomas Briels
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Top Hockey Players to Watch at Tokyo 2020

If there’s one team that will be eyeing up a first Olympic gold in Tokyo this summer, it has to be the men’s hockey squad from Belgium.

The current world and European champions have spent time at the top of the FIH Pro League, and will be desperate to go one step further than their silver medal at Rio 2016.

Legendary players like Thomas Briels and John-John Dohmen, both 33 by the time the Games, will be aiming for gold.

There’ll be plenty of players out there to try and stop the Red Lions though – keep an eye out for Manpreet Singh as he attempts to revive India’s fortunes, as well as Argentina’s Luca Vila and Eddie Ockenden of Australia.

Although the Netherlands missed out on a third consecutive gold medal in women’s hockey at Rio 2016, they will be going to Tokyo as the team to beat.

Lead by the two-time FIH World Player of the Year Eva de Goede, the current FIH Pro League leaders will be looking to regain a crown that they lost to Great Britain in a dramatic Olympic final.

Ireland, the team that the Dutch defeated in the 2018 World Cup final, are making their Olympic debut this summer; keep an eye out for the likes of Katie Mullan and Deidre Duke in Tokyo.   

Outside of Europe, New Zealand’s Olivia Merry has been a star of a COVID-disrupted FIH Pro League, netting 10 goals so far for the Black Sticks. Argentina will be hoping that Agustina Delfina Merino and Maria Granatto can lead their front-line to glory.

Olympic Hockey Schedule at Tokyo 2020

After the Opening Ceremony, hockey starts the following morning on Saturday (July 24), beginning with the opening match of Men’s Pool A between Japan and Australia at the Oi Hockey Stadium’s North Pitch. It will be one of eight matches to take play that Saturday, with all six opening men’s fixtures taking place along with two women’s fixtures – including Ireland’s women’s hockey Olympic debut against South Africa at 19:00 JST.

The group stages feature matches every day until July 31, with the quarter-final stage kicking off on Sunday 1 August. The gold medal matches are on Thursday 5 August (men’s) and Friday 6 August (women’s), both on the North Pitch.

A Brief History of Olympic Hockey

A constant in the Olympic programme since 1920, the sport has evolved to now include technology like video reviews and “hawk-eye”.

Playing surfaces are different as traditionally hockey was played on grass, compared to modern, water-based, artificial “turf”.

It has meant that the skills and abilities required for a modern hockey player could not be more different to what they once were.

The conditions of the sport have changed, and so have the nations to dominate the men’s hockey medals tally too.

The mid-20th century belonged very much to India – their men’s team won six gold medals consecutively without losing a single fixture from 1928 until losing out to Pakistan in 1960 - but, despite success at Moscow 1980, success has been hard to find.

Since 1996 Netherlands and Germany have both won back-to-back golds, and Argentina became the first South American men’s team to win gold at Rio 2016.

Women’s hockey was first seen at the Olympics in 1980, with six different gold medallists in that time.

Olympic Hockey Venues at Tokyo 2020

All of the hockey matches at Tokyo 2020 will take place at the Oi Hockey Stadium, which was officially inaugurated in August 2019.

The facility, which sits in the waterfront area of Tokyo Bay, will have two pitches and is a first of a kind due to the use of regrowable raw materials.

In line with the carbon-neutral targets of Tokyo 2020 and the International Hockey Federation’s sustainable hockey commitments, the pitches are 60 percent sugar cane which mean that only one-third of the water required for previous Olympic pitches will be required this summer.