Following a similar mandate made for the IIHF Women’s World Championships last year, the IIHF today confirmed that the 2022 Olympic women’s tournament in Beijing, China, will expand to ten teams, in order to accommodate both the host country and a new contender in an ever-increasing talent pool in international women’s hockey.
The tournament will expand for the first time since 2002, when the inaugural Nagano tournament in 1998 was increased from six teams to eight. The automatic berths to the Games, which typically are determined based on the IIHF World Rankings from two years prior, should be confirmed in 2020, which will likely give automatic berths to the top six or seven teams, in addition to China, leaving only two or three berths up for qualification tournaments. This current Olympics saw Japan and Switzerland earn berths via qualification, but whether the format would expand to three teams (which is how the men’s final spots were garnered) should be determined in the next year or two.
The benefits of this expansion are two-fold, as it expands the field for an ever-closing talent gap between perennial powerhouses Canada and the United States and the rest of the world (although of course there is still room for improvement), and allows China, which was an early pioneer of international women’s hockey, back into the tournament. The Chinese federation is working to improve their standing for both their men’s and women’s teams, and they should be in a prime position by 2022 to make more of an impact than the automatic berths granted to Korea had at the ongoing PyeongChang Games. We will have the 2019 Worlds to preview how this new format will go, and get a glimpse into how the new-look 2022 Games will be!