Despite Their Olympic Loss, The Indian Women’s Hockey Team Has Tasted Victory

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The Indian women’s hockey team will return home from Tokyo without a medal but with something exponentially more priceless – a legacy of having made history. Our women in blue made it to the Olympic hockey semifinals for the first time ever, defeating world champs Australia in what could be considered the biggest upset at the games this year.

On Friday, the team led by Rani Rampal in their final competition against Great Britain missed the bronze by a whisker in a match that ended 4-3. It was an emotional moment. Players broke down on the field. The pinch was felt by an entire nation back home that, glued to their screens, were riding big hopes on the super sixteen.

When that initial bitter shock of loss wore off, all that remained was a sweet aftertaste. Realisation set in. The Indian women’s hockey team, with or without a medal, attained superlative glory with their spirited performance through the event.

And in doing so, may have altered the course and status of women’s hockey in the country for years to come.

What The Indian Women’s Hockey Team Has Done With Their Olympic Show

Once unofficially popular as the ‘national sport of India,’ field hockey was the country’s crowning jewel in the global sporting arena.

While the men’s team commanded an indomitable winning streak as reigning Olympic champions between the 1920s and 60s, the women’s team (ever since the festival introduced a category for them in 1980) too maintained steady top positions for most of the seasons they appeared.

Under the captaincy of Suraj Lata Devi, the team won three consecutive golds at world tournaments. The ‘Golden Girls of Hockey,’ they were proudly together titled.

Sadly, the splendour of the sport gathered dust in the shadow of cricket. That is until Tokyo happened.   

What both the men and women’s hockey teams that competed this year have achieved is a resuscitation of the game’s lost glory. While the men did so by clinching bronze after a 41-year-long wait, the social obstacles the women athletes confronted to get to where they did adds to the success in equal, if not higher, measure.

Our Women In Blue: Inspiring Young Girls To Dream Sports

‘Don’t let your daughter play.’ ‘What is the need for her to wear skirts and play around with a stick?’ ‘Better to spend money on her marriage than on flimsy hobbies.’ The parents of our star players heard this and lots more when their daughters – brimming with dreams and daring – took the reins of their lives into their own hands to realise their hockey pursuits.

From Haryana, Punjab, Mizoram, Jharkhand, they cut through social stigma all while persisting under the burden of slim finances and scant resources for training. Read their stories here.

Knowing of such resilience that crossed mountains of distress, how can one not be left idolising these sportswomen? How many dreams of how many young girls must our women’s hockey team have given flight to with their Olympic show. Entire generations of girls would have found inspiration to go pick up that hockey stick their family had said was not meant for them.

Is there a bigger victory than changing the future for the better?

But is applause enough? 

This is hockey player Salima Tete’s home in Jharkhand – under-equipped with the kind of resources it takes for a sportswoman – especially one competing to bring laurels for the country – to comfortably shape her career and aspire big. Should the state not make better provisions for a global sports star?

Indian forward Vandana Katariya’s family in Haridwar was reportedly faced with casteist attacks after the team’s semifinals loss. The accused, now arrested, were claiming there were “too many Dalits” on the national team. Is that how we are repaying our athletes: with abuse in exchange for victories?

Now that hockey seems to have made a return to the stage, and is hopefully here to stay, the need of the hour is also to augment the patronage, sponsorships and state support around it. Our players – both current and future – deserve nothing less.

Views expressed are the author’s own.