An 18-member Indian women’s Hockey team departed for Argentina on Wednesday, November 18, for a five series tournament with the South American country. Matches would be held for both the under-21 and senior teams.
Indian women’s hockey ranks at number 13 while Argentina at number 3. Stakeholders of the team see this as a great opportunity for the players to identify the key areas of their strengths and weaknesses and work on them for the future.
With the upcoming Rio Olympics, this tournament would also serve as a testing ground for shortlisting potential players for the game. In the words of Coach Neil Hawgood, "It is an exploratory trip to see where we currently stand and what are the areas that we need to work upon to enhance our performance as per international standards," as said to IANS. Hawgood recently joined the team again after a yearlong break. Earlier SAI (Sports Authority of India) was considering him for the position of assistant coach, but that was later changed. The tournament is set at an opportune time for him to assess the current position of both the team members and their coach.
Some of the experienced players mentoring the new entrants would include Ritu Rani, Deepika Thakur, Sunita Lakra. In the words of Captain Ritu, “"We are aware about the nation's expectations from us since we have qualified for the Olympics. We have been training hard and such international trips will only help us understand the results of our hard work before we represent our country in the Olympics next year. We are happy to have the best coaching facility and feel confident about our preparation." There will be two under-21 and three senior matches.
The Indian women’s hockey team has qualified for an Olympic match for the first time in 36 years, which has created further anticipation and buzz amongst the team players and media. Earlier this year, sports camps were being held all across the country and fresh players being recruited to make the team stronger and better equipped.
For further helping the team in areas of health and fitness, specialists Matthew Tredrea and Kristie Sheridan have also been taken on board. Their core focus is going to be on devising scientific approaches to fitness and strength conditioning of the players that can meet the big Olympic benchmark.
Energy exploration giants Cairn India signed a 3-year sponsorship deal with the hockey team at 7 crore per annum, which expires in 2016. With Indian women breaking the glass ceiling and moving up the ladder, it seems like we can finally expect to see some further funds pouring in, which will eventually lead to the team’s betterment. Lack of adequate funding and disproportionate representation of women from various states of the country are interlinked and the most pressing challenges that the team has been attempting to cope with in the past.