The Commonwealth Games has a rich sporting tradition that goes back to 1930. In its earliest iteration, the multi-sport event featured 11 nations and 400 athletes. Now, in its 22nd edition, 4,600 athletes from 72 nations and territories will be participating in the English city of Birmingham in the event known as the Friendly Games.
Hockey has been played at the Commonwealth Games since 1998 and in that first year it was Australia who dominated, winning gold in both the men’s and women’s competitions. Malaysia men and England women took silver, while England men and New Zealand women won the bronze medals.
Australia men have dominated ever since – the Kookaburras have won the title an unbeaten six times, with New Zealand, Malaysia, India and Pakistan sharing the silver medals between them.
With Australia men sitting at number one in the FIH World Rankings and with the memory of a fantastic campaign at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - in which they lost on shoot-out to Belgium, it would be a brave person to suggest that Head Coach Colin Batch and his team could not make this a super seventh gold medal.
Leading Australia women this year and hoping to win gold in Head Coach capacity is Katrina Powell. Certainly, based on the bronze medal that the team recently won at the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup 2022, the Hockeyroos could be on track to win their fifth gold medal. Expect Stephanie Kershaw to be the dynamo that drives Australia on from midfield, while Joceln Bartram leads a rock solid defence.
New Zealand women are the reigning champions and they will be looking to retain that status after a World Cup campaign that began wonderfully but faltered in the quarter-finals. New Zealand topped their pool at the World Cup, with wins over India and England and finished in fifth place in the competition. Despite, like Australia, missing out on a season of FIH Pro League Hockey, the team has trained hard and enjoyed an intense period of international competition during a three month stint in Europe and, in the words of assistant coach Shea McAleese, see the Commonwealth Games as a chance to win an international medal.
New Zealand men have not had the same intense international calendar as the women’s team but test matches against Australia and the Netherlands will have certainly sharpened skills and minds. The Black Sticks are putting out a squad that has exciting young talent such as Sean Findlay and Joseph Morrison rubbing shoulders with veterans of the team such as Hugo Inglis, captain Blair Tarrant and Kane Russell.
India men and women will both be searching for medals. Both teams enjoyed an exceptional first season in FIH Pro League, finishing in third position in their respective leagues. India men will take the confidence of their Pro League wins against England, plus the incredible match which ended in a 3-3 draw with Belgium. Both sets of results suggest that India are more than ready to challenge for a first gold medal at this event.
India women will still be smarting from their World Cup experience. Janneke Schopman and her team arrived in Amsterdam on the back of a number of good FIH Pro League results, including wins over the Netherlands and Argentina (currently the teams ranked at world number one and two). However, at the World Cup it came crashing down as India finished ninth after losing their pool match to New Zealand and then losing the crossover match to Spain.
With players such as penalty corner specialists Gurjit Kaur, goalkeeper and captain Savita and young star Lalremsiami, expect India to bounce back in Birmingham.
Potentially one of the most exciting teams to arrive in Birmingham is the South Africa men’s team. The side set the Tokyo Olympics alight in 2021 with their dazzling speed and courage to take chances in attack. The Cassiem brothers, Mustapha and Dayaan are now well-known players among hockey fans, but also watch out for the penalty corner specialists Connor Beauchamp and Matt Guise-Brown.
South Africa women have their own skilful star who can cause chaos among even the most solid of defences in the form of Onthatile Zulu. Only 22, the forward was a star at both the Junior and Senior Women’s World Cups and when she starts to run at defences, onlookers hold their breath wondering what magic will be on show. At the other end of the pitch another star of the Junior World Cup is Jean-Leigh du Toit. An ace defender and a brave first runner on defensive penalty corners, du Toit is a crucial part of the South Africa defence.
The Welsh men’s team finished ninth in 2018 and seventh is their previous highest place, in 2002. The women also finished ninth in 2018 and their previous best was eighth in 2010. Both teams will be hoping for a higher finish this time around and certainly, in their ranks, they have a lot of talent that could produce the results. In recent test matches, Wales lost to South Africa, but they are a team that will quickly learn from international experience.
Rupert Shipperly, Dan Kyriakides, Lewis Prosser and Jacob Draper bring all the experience of representing both Wales and Great Britain, while Luke Hawker adds resilience in defence and Gareth Furlong epitomises the never-say-die work ethic of the team.
Wales women have a similar look to the team. Sarah Jones, Leah Wilkinson and Rose Thomas are all multi-capped for Great Britain and Wales, with Wilkinson and Jones both part of the Tokyo Olympic bronze medal winning team. Add in the talented Xenna Hughes, Isabelle Howell and co-captain Sian French and you have a team that could achieve Wales’ best result to date.
Scotland men and women both finished in respectable positions in 2018. The men were placed sixth while the women finished seventh. This time all eyes will be on captain and goal scorer extraordinaire Alan Forsyth as he will earn his 200 combined Great Britain and Scotland cap in his first match in Birmingham. Sarah Robertson will be fulfilling an equally important leadership role as she uses all the experience she gained in Tokyo to lead her exciting squad to achieve a high placed finish in Birmingham.
Kenya women are making their first appearance at a Commonwealth Games. The team has been making terrific strides forward in recent years, with a growing grass roots community that is translating into success at elite level. While Kenya will not realistically be challenging for medals, they may well cause a few upsets along the way.
Pakistan men finished second in 2006 and would dearly love to get on the podium again. The national team has dropped off in recent years from their heady days in the 1970s and 80s. They won gold at the Asian Champions Trophy in 2018 but that was their last significant win. While a lack of recent international experience might be a burden, expect this team, led by experienced Head Coach Seigfried Aikman, to be competitive in every match they play.
Neither Canada men or women have ever missed a Commonwealth Games, with the women’s team enjoying their highest ever finish at the 2018 Brisbane Games. The women are also just off the back of a highly instructive World Cup. They didn’t win a match but they showed that – on their day – they could mix it with the best, drawing with higher ranked India and Korea. The whole team showed huge reserves of energy and resilience and goalkeeper Rowan Harris and captain Natalie Sourisseau were among the players who shone in Terrassa.
The men’s team have not been in major international action since the Tokyo Olympics. They lost a number of multi-capped players to retirement after that event, so Head Coach Peter Milkovich will be looking for some steep learning curves to be followed. Eight of the squad have fewer than 10 caps, although Taylor Curran, John Smythe and Keegan pereira are among a handful of hugely experienced players. Wherever they finish, expect every match that Canada plays to be a battle.
Ghana is another nation where hockey has been developing apace at grass roots level and the results are showing higher up the chain. Most of the players from both the men’s and women’s teams are drawn from teams representing the national services – police, army and fire service.
This edition will be the first time Ghana men have qualified for the Commonwealth Games, while the women’s team first appeared in 2018, where they finished 10th. For Ghana women, the Commonwealth Games is a great opportunity to test themselves on the world stage as they so often just fail to qualify for major events because they tend to lose out to South Africa.
For both teams, the event in Birmingham will provide invaluable experience as the teams continue to grow and develop. For their part, the athletes can be relied upon to bring their own style of fast-flowing, attacking hockey and a real joie de vivre as they compete.
Host nation England must be going into this event hopeful of medals for both teams. The England men’s team showed enormous potential in the FIH Pro League with some exciting and close matches, including a 2-2 draw with Belgium and a thrilling 4-3 narrow defeat to India. The team is not yet the finished article but with talent such as Zach Wallace, Will Calnan, Ian Sloan and penalty corner specialists Nick Bandurak and Sam Ward in the the team, the host nation could be there at the business end.
England women exited the Women’s World Cup after a narrow defeat at the hands of eventual silver medallists, Argentina. Like the men, this is a side that is still building but there is talent aplenty in the ranks. Dependable defenders Hollie Pearne-Webb, Laura Unsworth and Giselle Ansley provide a platform from which the speed merchants Hannah Martin, Lily Owsley and Ellie Rayer can attack. Tess Howard is turning into a force to be reckoned with in the circle. England have never failed to win a medal in the women’s competition but, in front of a home crowd, this time the ambition has to be gold.