The men’s and women’s tournaments use the same format and rules.
A total of 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams will compete in Tokyo. The tournament begins with pool play. The twelve teams are divided into two pools of six teams.
Each team plays every other team in the pool once using a round robin format. Points are awarded as follows:
- Win: 3 points
- Tie: 1 point
- Loss: 0 points
At the end of pool play, the top four teams in each pool (eight teams total) will qualify for the quarterfinal round. The teams are placed into the bracket so that the top team from pool A and the top team from pool B are placed on opposite sides of the bracket.
If, at the end of pool play, two or more teams are tied in points, the following tie-breaking procedures will be used (in priority order):
- The highest total number of wins
- Goal difference
- Total number of goals scored
- The result of the game played between the tied teams
If more than two teams remain tied at this point, the ranking will be determined by following steps 1-4 above, but using only the games involving the tied teams.
If two or more teams remain tied after all of the above criteria has been considered, a shootout between the tied teams will be held.
The tournament then uses a single-elimination bracket to progress from the quarterfinal round to the semifinal round to the medal games. The two semifinal winners compete for gold, while the two semifinal losers compete for bronze.
Each game consists of four 15-minute quarters. There is a two-minute break after the first and third quarters, and a 10-minute halftime break after the second quarter.
The clock stops after goals, during video referrals, penalty strokes, when cards are given out, when the ref signals an injury timeout, and when penalty corners are awarded.
Each team has the right to request one video referral during regulation of each game. Video referrals may only be requested regarding decisions to award (or not award) goals, penalty strokes, or penalty corners. If the video referral overturns the original call — or a decision cannot be made by the video umpire — the team keeps its video referral. If the video umpire says there is no reason to change the original call, the team loses its video referral. If a shootout is held, each team is reset back to one video referral (regardless of whether they used their video referral during regulation).
Ties are not broken during pool play; instead, each team receives one point.
In the event of a tie during the quarterfinals, semifinals, or medal games, a shootout will be used to determine the winner.
The shootout begins with a best-of-five format. Each team selects five field players to participate. Each player starts at the 23-meter line. When the whistle blows, the player has eight seconds to attempt to score. The attempt ends when one of the following occurs:
- Eight seconds has elapsed. The attacker is allowed multiple attempts within the eight-second time limit.
- The attacker scores a goal or commits an offence
- The goalkeeper commits an offence (in which case the shootout is retaken)
- The goalkeeper commits an intentional offence (in which case a penalty stroke is awarded)
- The ball goes out of play over the back-line or side-line
If the teams are still tied at the end of the best-of-five series, the shootout becomes a sudden death competition: each team will take one attempt until one team scores and the other fails to score within the same round.