For much of the previous century, the rich heritage of hockey was tied to the Olympic Games.
Every four years, the best teams in the world gathered to play for the Olympic gold, considered the highest honour in hockey. It was dominated by the Asian teams, with India alone winning eight gold medals and Pakistan three.
The Asian stranglehold began waning in the 1970s as the world moved away from natural grass fields and towards astroturfs – artificial grass surfaces specifically designed to play hockey. The change in surface saw a change in guard as the faster and fitter European nations began to compete a lot better.
Field hockey was expanding its reach and it received a solid boost when the first edition of the men’s Hockey World Cup was staged in 1971.
The idea of a hockey World Cup was first mooted jointly by India and Pakistan in an International Hockey Federation (FIH) council meeting in March 1969.
Pakistan, represented by the Pakistan Hockey Federation chief Air Marshal Nur Khan – a sports enthusiast who also served as Pakistan’s head of federation for cricket and squash – proposed that the first Hockey World Cup be held in Pakistan. (Nur Khan was also the brainchild behind the concept of the Hockey Champions Trophy.)
However, a politically charged climate in the Indian subcontinent meant that Spain was chosen to host the inaugural Hockey World Cup.
The Hockey World Cup trophy, standing at 61cm tall, was designed by artisans in the Pakistan Army, who made it out of gold and silver.
The stage was set for a brand new world tournament in field hockey.
Men’s Hockey World Cup
The first men’s Hockey World Cup was an experiment and it was quite a success. The tournament attracted almost 10,000 people, emphasising that the sport was growing beyond its Asian echelons. Pakistan won the first FIH Hockey World Cup, beating hosts Spain 1-0 in the final.
Pakistan are also the most successful nation in the men’s Hockey World Cup, winning four titles. The Netherlands and Australia follow close behind with three World Cups each. The Netherlands was also the first country to win the World Cup as hosts in 1973.
Germany is the only other country with multiple World Cup titles with two. India and Belgium have won one World Cup each. Belgium are the defending champion, having won the World Cup in 2018.
India at men’s Hockey World Cup
The Indian hockey men’s team may be the most decorated side in the history of the Olympics, but its record in the World Cup hasn’t been as glorious.
India, of course, had reached the final in 1973 but lost to the Netherlands and finished third in 1971. Since 1975 though, the Indian hockey team has not managed to make the semi-finals.
The Indian men’s hockey team will be looking for a podium finish when it hosts the 2023 FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup. This will be the second-consecutive World Cup to be held in India after 2018.
Men’s Hockey World Cup winners list
1971 - Pakistan
1973 - The Netherlands
1975 - India
1978 - Pakistan
1986 - Australia
1990 - The Netherlands
1994 - Pakistan
1998 - The Netherlands
2002 - Germany
2006 - Germany
2010 - Australia
2014 - Australia
2018 - Belgium
Women’s Hockey World Cup
The first edition of the Women’s Hockey World Cup was held in 1974, three years after the first men’s World Cup. The Netherlands became the inaugural champions after they beat Argentina 1-0 in the final.
The Dutchwomen have dominated the World Cup, winning eight titles in total, including a hat-trick in 1983, 1986, and 1990, making them the most successful team in the history of the competition.
The Netherlands have also won the previous two World Cups in 2014 and 2018 and will be gunning for a second World Cup hat-trick at the next edition in 2022 in their home country.
Three teams are tied for second place behind the Netherlands. Argentina, Australia, and Germany have each won two World Cup titles. In 1976, the Germans (as West Germany) were the first to win a women’s World Cup as hosts.
India at women’s World Cup
The Indian hockey women’s team began well at the Hockey World Cup in the inaugural edition in 1974 as it topped Pool A, which included eventual winners the Netherlands.
However, the Indian hockey women’s team fell to Argentina 1-0 in the semi-finals and then lost the third-place playoff 2-0 to West Germany to end fourth.
That remains India’s best-ever finish in the competition as they have been unable to make the semi-finals since.
However, the Indian hockey women’s team now has the potential to do better in upcoming World Cups. Having qualified for two consecutive Olympic Games (Rio and Japan), Indian women will fancy their chances in the 2022 edition in the Netherlands.
Women’s Hockey World Cup winners list
1974 - The Netherlands
1976 - West Germany
1978 - The Netherlands
1981 - West Germany
1983 - The Netherlands
1986 - The Netherlands
1990 - The Netherlands
1994 - Australia
1998 - Australia
2002 - Argentina
2006 - The Netherlands
2010 - Argentina
2014 - The Netherlands
2018 - The Netherlands
Junior Hockey World Cup
While the senior men’s and women’s World Cups are the main draw, FIH also holds a Junior World Cup.
The rules state that only players below the age of 21 on the December before a Junior Hockey World Cup year are eligible to play at the event.
The first FIH Junior Hockey World Cup for men was held in 1979. Pakistan won the inaugural edition. It remains Pakistan’s only Junior World Cup title to date.
Germany have a solid record in the men’s Junior Hockey World Cup, winning a record six titles, including four consecutive ones in 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1993.
India are the second-most successful nation in the men’s Junior Hockey World Cup, having won two titles (in 2001 and 2016). India, the defending champions, have made the semi-finals on two other occasions.
The first women’s Junior Hockey World Cup was held in 1989, with West Germany winning their only title that year.
The Netherlands are the most successful team in the junior women’s tournament, winning three titles, followed by Argentina and South Korea, who have won two each.
The next edition of both the men’s and women’s Junior World Cups will be held in 2021. The men’s edition will be held in India while the women will play in South Africa.