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Khelo India Women’s Hockey League U16: School hockey on a sticky pitch in Mumbai

Mumbai School Sports Association team in action against Sports Authority of India A side in Khelo India Women
Mumbai School Sports Association team in action against Sports Authority of India A side in Khelo India Women's Hockey League U16 tournament | Image: Khelo India on Twitter

The buzzword after the weeklong first phase of the Khelo India Women’s Hockey League U16 that concluded here at the Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium on Tuesday, was that, “It was an excellent platform for youngsters to showcase their talent."

No doubt the league matches gave budding players from across India an opportunity to learn and exhibit their skills. At the same time, the first phase of the tournament depicted a huge gap between the competing teams.

Haryana’s Pritam Siwach Academy and Sonepat topped the chart with 21 points and won all seven league matches played.

Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA) finished at the bottom of the table. What is even more astonishing is that the MSSA side conceded as many as 144 goals and couldn’t score even a single goal in the seven league matches played.

1st @kheloindia Women's Hockey League (U-16) Phase 1Day 3, Match 4 ✅Team Sports Hostel Odisha wins against Team Mumbai School Sport Association (19-0). https://t.co/5GIzMvM1Ov

The performance of the MSSA U16 girls’ team at the Khelo India Women’s Hockey League gives the impression that either the team was assembled at the eleventh hour or hockey isn’t a priority for the school-going students, particularly in the girls’ section.

Jude Rodrigues, president of MSSA, denied that the U16 team was formed just a couple of days before the Delhi tournament, but admitted that hockey amongst girls is on the decline in Mumbai.

“There are few takers for hockey discipline (girls) in Mumbai as the focus is on academies,” Rodrigues told Sportskeeda over the phone from Mumbai. “Of the 20 disciplines that MSSA promotes, football and cricket are more popular. But we need to revive hockey.”

According to Rodrigues, who has been president of MSSA for the last 14 years, the clash of dates between the Khelo India Women’s Hockey League and the State Government school tournament was another reason for fielding a second string team.

“The main players of the Mumbai school side went to compete in the state hockey competition. In the absence of good players, the option was to send a second bench team to the Khelo India Women’s Hockey League,” the MSSA president said.
#MatchUpdate Day2️⃣ Match 2️⃣Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre wins the match 11–0 against Mumbai School Sports Association #KheloIndia #HockeyIndia #Dhyanchand @hockeyindia @sports_odisha @kheloindia https://t.co/3R6pJNYm7V

Prabha, who was the coach of the MSSA team, said that camp couldn’t be organized as the players didn’t turn up.

“The local weather in Mumbai wasn’t conducive to organize a camp,” Prabha added.

Lack of facilities to prepare for Khelo India U16 event

Mumbai is a financial hub and one of the largest cities of India. Yet, it doesn’t have adequate modern playing facilities for hockey. Mumbai is also home to several hockey Olympians, including former Indian skipper Dhanraj Pillay.

Yet, there are only two hockey pitches in Mumbai. One is at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus and the second turf is under the Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA).

“None of the schools in Mumbai have artificial surface,” Rodrigues explained. “It’s very expensive (Rs 6000) to rent a turf for two hours for practice.”

Prabha said the lack of proper ground for practice in Mumbai is a big setback to hockey.

“The fact that the girls had the courage to compete against better teams was a was big achievement,” she said.

Rodrigues was hopeful that MSSA would bounce back in the second phase of the Khelo India Women’s Hockey League scheduled for October in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “We will field a better team in October,” he added.

Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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