Women hockey in India has probably never seen such a ‘high’ as the recent one – qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Well, one may ask what is a ‘big deal’ about making it to the Olympics. For countries like Netherlands, Australia, England and Germany, booking a participation ticket to the Olympics is ‘no big deal’ and a ‘routine affair’, but when it comes to Indian women’s hockey, it is definitely a ‘huge thing’ to qualify for the Olympics.
Indian women’s hockey has been in the doldrums for long. The national team’s qualification for the Rio Olympics has come after a hiatus of 36 years – India last featured in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, where they finished fourth among six participants in a depleted field as many as 65 nations, led by the USA, who boycotted that edition in protest against the Soviet war in Afghanistan. In fact, women’s hockey was introduced in the Olympics for the first time in Moscow.
Quite naturally, the national team making the Olympics cut after missing eight Olympics is a big boost to women hockey in India. The national side have shown ample signs in last one year or so that they are making steady progress in pursuit of climbing up the women hockey ladder.
A bronze medal finish at the 2013 Junior Women’s World Cup in Monchengladbach came as a huge surprise for the countrymen. The 2014 Asian Games bronze and the manner in which they held world number two Australia to a goalless draw in the Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand, instilled hopes among hockey lovers that our girls cannot be written off despite the step-motherly treatment meted out by corporate sponsors.
Former captain lauds team’s achievements
The national women team have, in Rani Rampal, probably one of the world’s most lethal forwards, though persistent injuries in recent times haven’t allowed her to play at her peak form. The rapidly improving Vandana Kataria and the cool Poonam Rani make up a solid forwardline. Skipper Ritu Rani is an able soldier in the midfield and draws decent support from the likes of Sushila Chanu, Navneet Kaur, Lilima Minz and Lily Chanu. The Odisha trio of Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo and Sunita Lakra forge a robust combination in defence besides our goalkeepers Rajini and Savita.
The biggest plus of this team is that they have been playing together for a long while now. What makes things more favourable in terms of team cohesion is that most of these girls are so young that they end up playing in both the junior and senior teams, which only strengthens team coordination if one looks at the bigger picture.
Former Indian captain Surinder Kaur feels that this is a big moment for Indian women’s hockey. “During my playing days I worked hard playing for the country and missed out on Olympics. These girls really work hard and now going to play in the Olympics. I almost feel like I have qualified for the Olympics, just too happy for them,” she gushed.
The prolific former Indian forward, who called time on her international career after the 2010 Asian Games, says that Olympic qualification would pave the way for the sport grabbing more eyeballs.
“I have no doubt that women’s hockey will take off from here. Our girls are a hardworking unit and with proper planning and preparation they cannot perform well in the Olympics,” she concluded.Published 01 Sep 2015, 10:32 IST