Indian women’s hockey team went down valiantly against Great Britain in the bronze medal match today but not before giving a great account of their resilience, skills and sheer will. A country that is obsessed with Cricket and elevates the players playing it to a demigod status were up and watching the fierce 11 women battling with the stick in their hands, early in the morning.
Winning a medal after a 41-year wait was a momentous feat in itself but it was made even sweeter by the fact that the men’s hockey team achieved its highest-ever ranking on the world stage due to its phenomenal run through the course of the games.
According to the latest FIH World Ranking, India now holds the No. 3 spot behind Australia and Belgium, which is their best ever ranking since the system was introduced in 2003. The team is now the most successful team in Hockey in terms of medals, that is 12, surpassing Germany.
Similarly, the women’s team, en route to the semi-final, had beaten the mighty team from down under, that is, the Australians and for those who have followed the team closely, it wasn’t a surprise victory but a testament to skipper Rani Rampal and her team’s incredible gameplay and tenacity. One more thing to note is that India was the only country whose both men’s and women’s teams entered the semi-finals and made history in the Tokyo Olympics.
There was a time when India used to dominate the sport. The men’s team won six consecutive golds from 1928 to 1956 but has added only two more since. The golden run of Indian Hockey came to a halt at the 1960 Olympics but the team managed to make a comeback in the medal tally in the next quadrennial event in Tokyo.
It was the Mexico Olympics in 1968 where the team went down against Australia in the Semi-Final and settled for a Bronze, which incidentally marked the beginning of a downfall, a downfall that was manufactured entirely by the politics of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF).
The International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) decision to make synthetic Astroturf the mandatory playing surface for international hockey tournaments came as the final nail in the coffin for the future of Indian hockey and for the first time ever, in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, India did not win any medal.
The downward spiral of Indian Hockey continued and hit rock bottom in 2008 when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, for the first time in its history. The immediate repercussion was borne by KPS Gill, whose 15-year tenure as the hockey boss came to an unceremonious end with the Indian Olympic Association removing him by suspending the IHF and appointing an ad-hoc committee.
However, then came the year 2014 and the wheels finally started to turn as several important changes were introduced in hockey that year. The government of Odisha, whose administration has been in the hands of Naveen Patnaik, turned its attention towards Hockey and decided to endorse it. Dilip Tirkey, a legend of the game joined Patnaik’s party and together the duo started the process of the betterment of the Indian hockey.
Not only this, but Dilip also appealed to Patnaik to encourage the construction of Hockey related infrastructure. As a result, Odisha went ahead to take over the responsibility of hosting not only the Champions Trophy 2014 and the FIH World Hockey League Finals 2017 but also offered to host the 2018 World Cup. Given the history of natural disasters in Odisha, people doubted the success of these tournaments but now that we look back, every single one of those tournaments contributed to the success both teams have achieved in this tournament.
As reported by TFI, Odisha in 2018 created history by becoming the first state to openly sponsor an Indian sports team ever. And to this date, it proudly sponsors the team and the players seem to have incredible respect for the sports-loving Patnaik.
Moreover, through the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC) and Target Olympic Podium Scheme, or the TOPS, the two flagship government sports schemes, aimed at nurturing and polishing the Olympic dreams of the country, the government has ensured that Hockey players are financially looked after.
TOPS was initiated by the Modi government in 2014 and a total of 58 hockey players, 33 men and 25 women, have been receiving a monthly allowance of Rs 50,000 under the government’s ambitious scheme. Over the years, the government has spent Rs 1,200 crore on athletes according to the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Indian Captain Manpreet Singh had lauded the government’s decision to grant the allowance and stated, “We have many players who come from very difficult economic backgrounds and an allowance of this accord will definitely help them pursue the sport through to the Olympic Games without any hindrance.”
The scary part for the opposition, all across the globe is that the Indian team is just getting started. If the government continues to provide the support and Hockey India keeps politics out of the organization, we could once again proudly call ourselves the powerhouse of the sport.
This year’s Olympics is probably the start of what is going to be a golden era of India’s representation in international sports events and particularly Hockey. India sent its largest-ever contingent to the Tokyo Olympics, which tells us that more and more Indian players are now qualifying for the mega event. With the practice and development of the ecosystem, the performance of the athletes is set to improve, and that means more and more participants would be able to bag medals in the coming years.