In 2008 for the Beijing Olympics, I wrote a big piece on how the game is played. I suggest that you read that for the general rules about the game before diving into this piece. It will explain the basics so you understand what's happening on the field. There's also a historic piece on who are normally the favorites at these events, so take a peek at that one as well.
From the first linked article, I had written about how the game is managed with respect to time. I wrote, "The game is divided into two 35-minute halves with a five-minute half-time." In order to facilitate better coverage and analysis, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has instituted changes for the Olympic event this year. Whether or not they improve the sport's play is debatable, but there is certainly some belief that these changes will increase the intensity of the game and the overall flow when generating offence.
Before I go further, field hockey is unique in that the game is played on a sand-filled turf field that makes the surface harder, but slows the ball's roll considerably. Because of this, games would resemble soccer in that flurries of offensive attacks would often be interrupted by long breaks of teams trying to force the other team into a mistake. That's not a complaint, but it did allow the upper echelon of teams to gain a lead and simply wear out their opposition by passing the ball around in the non-attacking area and forcing their opposition to chase the game.
To close the gap between the top teams and the rest of the field, the decision was made to reduce games from two 35-minute halves to four 15-minute quarters with 2 minutes of rest after each period. Halftime would go from five minutes to fifteen minutes in length. Much like in basketball, the breaks will allow for better analysis by TV crews and the additional breaks should provide more rest and opportunities for teams to adjust their lineups thereby improving the play of the game.
Thanks to the heat in Rio, the sun not only affects the players as it bears down on them, but can be reflected by the field's blue-coloured turf as well. As you may recall, the 2012 London Olympic Games debuted the blue turf, and it was well-received by both players and officials for its play. By instituting the more frequent and regular breaks, players can stay hydrated and cooled off when these breaks were only normally afford by a player substitution in previous events.
Additional changes for the 2016 Olympic Games include the implementation of 40-second time outs following both penalty corner awards and the scoring of a goal. This should push the level of play higher as both teams can adjust to their opposition's tactics in these breaks. The timeouts will also prevent teams from using additional seconds of the running time so that all games respect the 60-minute total game time. And since overtime was eliminated in round-robin games in tournaments by the FIH in 2013, any tied matches will go to a penalty shootout in the round-robin to determine a winner.
These changes are seen as positives in the field hockey community, and it sounds as if the Olympic Hockey Center at Deodoro will be well-received by the community. Being that the Rio Olympiad is the first tournament to see the new four-quarter format, it will be interesting to see how this format is received by the television community, but the length of matches shouldn't be affected by these changes when it comes to scheduling blocks of time for TV broadcasts.
For a sport that is looking to hold onto its Olympic status, there's hope that these changes will make watching and enjoying the game both from a player's perspective and a fan's perspective much better. While we'll probably hear feedback throughout the Olympic Games about these changes, the important numbers will be the fans through the turnstiles and watching on TV and the scores on the scoreboard!
The event starts August 6 - will you be watching?
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!