Rio Olympics 2016: India eves must aim for top-5 finish, says former hockey captain Suraj Lata Devi

Indian Women's Hockey
The Indian Women’s hockey team are playing at the Olympics after almost 4 decades
Suhrid Barua

There is a great deal of excitement among the Indian hockey fans over the senior women team qualifying for the Olympics after a hiatus of 36 years – they had last featured at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, where women’s hockey was first introduced.

One can understand the prevailing excitement among the fans, but make no mistake, the national women’s team is not in Rio just to make the numbers. “Qualifying for the Olympics after 36 years is itself a big thing. I’m really happy to see women hockey come up, I hope they make everyone proud with their performance,” says former Indian women hockey team captain Suraj Lata Devi, who is now based in Mumbai working for Western Railway.

The Indian eves are ranked 13th in the world – they made the Olympic cut after beating Japan by a solitary goal at the 2015 Hockey World League Semifinal round in Belgium – the same opponents they clash with, in their Olympic opener on Sunday. “This Indian team is really working hard – they should aim for a top five finish – keeping my fingers crossed,” Suraj Lata says with a tinge of caution.

The 35-year-old former midfielder from Manipur, who led India to their first-ever gold medal finish at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, is elated to see her state-mate Sushila Chanu wear the captain’s armband. “Sushila is maturing fast – she was the captain when the Indian Junior Women’s hockey team won a bronze medal at the 2013 Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach. I’m sure she will do a good job in Rio.”

Suraj Lata, who had played in the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games, 1998 Bangkok Asian Games and 2002 Busan Asian Games, expresses her helplessness in assessing the current team’s forward line. “I’m not able to see the girls in action in recent months as there is no telecast on any channel. I only get to read in newspapers that India played and won this game. Without seeing girls in action, it won’t be proper to comment on the players.”

Suraj Lata was the captain when Indian eves had a dream run between 2002-2004 when they won the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, 2003 Afro-Asian Cup and 2004 Asia Cup. “The captaincy period was really good for India – we won three tournaments before I called it quits after the 2004 Asia Cup,” recalls the girl, who had also played in the 1998 Bangkok Commonwealth Games.

The former international, who was spotted as a fourteen-year-old by former national coach MK Kaushik, voices her frustration when the conversation veers towards job for women hockey players. “It is difficult for me to say why no one is hiring women hockey players apart from Railways. Women players don’t have much job scope,” she makes her point.

Edited by Staff Editor


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