India's women's hockey has been on an upward curve for the past few years under the able leadership of Rani Rampal. The girls also made history when they won the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in 2019 to book a ticket for their second consecutive Olympics. The profile of the sport has definitely improved of late but the key is to make a big statement at Tokyo next year, feels Rajani Etimarpu.
The Andhra Pradesh player added that a big splash at the mega quadrennial Games will encourage girls to take up hockey as a viable career option.
"Doing well in the Tokyo Olympic Games will certainly lift the profile of the sport and it will certainly encourage more women to take up hockey," said Rajani Etimarpu. "The recognition that the Indian Women's Hockey has received in these past few years through various awards has already spurred participation of women in the sport and we are certain that through our good performance more women will feel that hockey can be a viable career option," she added.
Feels great that our efforts on and off the field are being recognized: Rajani Etimarpu
Rajani Etimarpu, who has played at the 2016 Olympics, acknowledged that the girls have come a long way since Rio. In the intervening four years, the Indian women's hockey team has shown more belief and has been able to match the level of some of the strongest teams.
They won the Asia Cup in 2017 and bagged a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy. The consistent performances triggered a steady rise in the FIH World Rankings and the Indian women's hockey team is currently placed at ninth.
The players also recently engaged in philanthropic activities as they raised funds to feed over 1,000 families who had suffered a crisis due to the pandemic. The Indian women's hockey team members were richly rewarded for their efforts with with the Vogue Women of the Year 2020 award (sports category).
The 30-year-old Rajani Etimarpu took the opportunity to speak about this huge recognition as she noted that the Indian women's hockey team is finally getting the attention it deserves.
"I think the team has done remarkably well over the past four years. We have been able to up our level of performance against some of the best teams in the world and at the same time, we have also engaged in social causes like raising funds for the poor and needy during this pandemic. It feels great that our efforts on and off the field are being recognized. I am hopeful this will make more women take up the sport in the future," said Rajani Etimarpu.
The women players are currently undergoing a national camp at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Center in Bangalore. Rajani Etimarpu said the girls have managed to maintain high levels of fitness due to the camp and they are looking forward to keeping it up even when they go home for a break.