Gold in Rio. What Does this Mean for Women’s Hockey?
Ever since I picked up my first hockey stick at the age of 12, I was hooked and the aspiration of playing for my country was born. To watch the Team GB women win gold in Rio and stand on the podium was one that I’ll remember forever. Not only has this made me immensely proud to play my sport, but the implications of this victory for hockey – and women’s sport in general – are unimaginable. This medal has paved the way for my sport and, arguably, secured its future success for many years to come.

To understand what winning gold in Rio means for the hockey community, let’s look at its impact on clubs, the media and what this means for the future.

1. Developing #Back2Hockey

Each year England Hockey run #Back2Hockey, an initiative which encourages clubs to engage with their local community to help with each club’s annual recruitment drive. Following the success at Rio, it’s expected that clubs will see a huge increase in participants from local schools and from ‘lapsed’ players (those who haven’t played hockey since leaving school or university).

Building on the first year of #Back2Hockey in 2014 (see my previous blog here), England Hockey have created #HockeyFest – a festival which encourages clubs to not only recruit new players, but celebrate hockey in the community over the course of the summer. Clubs have also been encouraged to hold inter-club tournaments, watch hockey matches live from Rio, as well as promote their activity across social media and through local press. Clubs with an affiliation with a medal winner have hosted coaching sessions with the GB players to inspire new members.

2. Riding the Rio media wave

Over the course of the summer, media interest in hockey has grown significantly. The Olympic Semi-Final and Final were shown live on BBC1 and BBC2 – the first time in the sport’s history. 9 million tuned into the Final, the huge demand pushing back BBC News at Ten to a later time.

Since their return to the UK, the gold medallists have been kept busy with a wide variety of appearances, from BBC Breakfast to A Question of Sport. None more so than Kate Richardson-Walsh, my personal hockey hero, who has arguably cemented herself as a national treasure. Over the years, Kate has been a figurehead for GB Women’s Hockey and was rightly appointed as flag-bearer at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. She first made the headlines at London 2012, where she fractured her jaw in Team GB’s opening match against Japan, but after receiving medical attention, she continued to play in the rest of tournament. The victory at Rio 2016 was the crowning glory of her career and will no doubt inspire a new generation of players.

3. The future – what does this mean now?

So, they’ve inspired a nation over the summer and are now seen across multiple channels promoting their success, but what does the future now hold for hockey in Britain? Well, it’s looking bright. Over the next few years, England Hockey have secured the right to host multiple international, as well as domestic competitions, to be held at London’s Lee Valley Hockey Centre and at Wembley Arena.

From the Men’s Hockey World League in June 2017 to the Women’s World Cup 2018, watching live hockey will be more accessible than ever. Sky Sports broadcasted the Women’s European Championships in 2015 and more coverage is planned. Sky Sports are a champion of GB Hockey and the team regularly feature in the Sky Sports Sportswomen TV programmes.

To ensure that they continue with the momentum created from Rio, England Hockey have given clubs and previous event attendees early access to tickets. The attendance at the first international tournament will be a big test to see if the governing body can utilise this increased interest. My belief, given the reaction post-Rio, is that they can.

A relevant question for the future is how brands can capitalise on the team’s success this summer. Investec, the women’s Principal Sponsor, have quickly started their activity with the team following their return from Rio. They’ve helped to raise the players’ individual profile by having a stylised team photo shoot taking place at a country estate with interviews highlighting interesting facts about them. Ahead of the Olympics, Investec also released a series of emotive and inspiring films which highlighted both key players and the head coach, on their journey to becoming GB Hockey team members. This included one of the team’s superstars, Maddie Hinch, who, with her incredible performance in the Final, helped to grab many ‘armchair’ fans’ attention.

The GB team’s win at Rio has clearly put international hockey and women in sport back on the news agenda. England and GB Hockey are on the right road to maintaining the sport’s momentum; however, more can be done to build excitement and participation ahead of Tokyo 2020.

To do so they must utilise hockey’s stars in innovative and engaging ways to help promote the sport and women’s sport in general. With the upcoming events planned, this is a very exciting time for hockey.

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