In the lead up to the International Women’s Day 2024, a year that marks 100 years of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), we are speaking with women in hockey, who have made major contributions towards the growth of the sport over the past few decades. 

In today’s story, we feature Els van Breda Vriesman, the first - and so far only - female president of the International Hockey Federation (2001-2008), former member of the International Olympic Committee and a sports administrator with decades of experience. 

Els started playing hockey at an early age, encouraged by her parents. Her sporting activities were not limited to just hockey as she practiced sports like tennis, volleyball and speedskating. It was at age 11 that she started playing club hockey with one of the local clubs in Enschede, Netherlands. She played the sport all the way to the Under-18 level, where she made the Dutch women’s junior national team, before pursuing a professional career in law. 

Through her time as a player and sports administrator, Els points to the introduction of women’s hockey as the milestone moment for gender equality in hockey. “In the 1980 edition of the Olympic Games, women’s hockey was included at the Olympics for the first time. Nearly at the same time the FIH and the IFWHA - International Federation of Women's Hockey Associations - joined together as one international body, which paved the way for more and more women’s participation across various levels of the sport.”

With an eye of a sports administrator having held multiple positions in the Olympic movement, Els is thrilled by the increased participation of female athletes in nearly every sport. “I am delighted not just by their participation but also their improved - and now excellent - skills along with their vocal presence, which has a larger effect on each upcoming generation! I believe in achieving step by step the goals set and I think we are on the right track as a sporting community.”

On a personal note, Els is thankful for the support she received from her family as she pursued her career in sports administration. “My husband and my family supported me as I spent so much time away from home. I am also thankful to my club, and the KNHB whose board members and administrators backed me all the way during many years. Same for the FIH administrators who were always there to assist me. My special thanks go to Honorary President Etienne Glichitch who assisted me all the way through.”

Looking back at her stellar career, she feels a sense of great satisfaction. “I have a lot of satisfaction in achieving the goals I had set for myself when being elected as the FIH President. For example, moving the headquarters of the FIH to Lausanne, improving the development funding for the Continental Federations, athletes participation in the Executive Board and a stronger tie with the IOC.”