Hockey’s presence at the Olympic Games has been boosted significantly with the announcement that the women’s competition will be increased from 10 to 12 teams for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee Executive Board in Lausanne, Switzerland, means that both men’s and women’s Olympic hockey competitions will contain 12 teams when the Beijing Olympic Games start in August 2008.

“I am thrilled that an extra two women’s teams will now have the opportunity to participate at hockey’s pinnacle event, a move certain to boost the profile of our sport around the world,” International Hockey Federation President Els van Breda Vriesman said.

“The decision of the IOC Executive Board consolidates hockey’s place on the Olympic programme and is recognition of our strong ties with the Olympic movement.”

“Importantly, it creates a gender balance between men’s and women’s hockey at the highest level. This is an environment FIH strives to achieve in all aspects of its operation.”

The IOC decision brings the Olympic competitions into line with the FIH World Cups, with 12 teams also qualifying to contest these tournaments.

Women’s hockey was admitted onto the Olympic programme in 1980 with six teams competing, before rising to eight in 1988 and 10 for the last two Olympic Games. The men’s hockey competition has fielded 12 teams since 1988.