The 56th Senior National Women's Championship in Bangalore this April holds out hope for women's hockey in the State

Women's hockey has a hoary past and a bright present in Karnataka. The State Women's Hockey Association, which was formed in 1964 as Mysore State Women's Hockey Association has been at the forefront of the development of the game over the years. It is due to the sustained efforts of State body that Karnataka has produced several international class players over the ages. The Britto sisters — Elviera, May and Rita, Durdana Gill, Nirmala Puri, Jacqueline, Shirley Fernandes, Marie Narayan were some of the stars who have done Karnataka and India proud in the past. Recently, we had Helen Mary, who captained the Indian squad while, Lakshmisree, Sujatha, B.M. Geetha and S.S. Nilan are the new faces of the game in the state. The State has also produced noted international women's umpire, Anupama Punchimanda.

Karnataka teams have been performing well in both National and Zonal events with a high degree of consistency. The State has also hosted the national junior championship in 2004, National sub-junior championship in 2006 and South Zone cluster meets in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 and is now geared to host the 56th Senior National Women's Championship at Bangalore from April 6 to 14.

“We are conducting this event at a critical phase as there is a lot of confusion and contradiction over the status of women's hockey, with apex bodies at the National level, IHF and Hockey India,” says the president of the KSWHA, Radha Murthy.

Radha, wife of late hockey doyen and well known administrator D.S. Murthy, has been a pillar of strength to an association, which has often faced difficult phases in the recent years as events dwindled and an exodus of players from State ranks to institutional teams began. The fracas between IHF and Hockey India added to the confusion.

Radha's Association is however affiliated to IHF, which, she maintains, had always been the parent body. “Basically, the women's association has officially merged with the men's, now. This move has some positives and some negatives. Men take quick decisions, while only a handful of women administrators show much interest. But I am blessed with a good support team and we have our say in the development of women's hockey in the State,” says Radha Murthy.

Though not so willing to commit herself on the IHF-Hockey India stand off, Radha says the squabble has hurt players. “They are confused about their selections for the National squad. Such uncertainties do affect their morale.” Radha Murthy admits that there has been a dip in the standard of the game in the State. “The players need some incentive and recognition. As an association, we can provide whatever we can, but when it comes to finding a professional career that goes hand in hand with hockey, it is not in our hands. I have done my bit by speaking to institutions like Canara Bank and the police, to take more women players. I do not blame players for shifting to institutional outfits, as they guarantee gainful employment. At the end of the day, you need to make a living.”

She is upbeat about the future of the game in the State. “We have gone now to districts like Hassan , Haveri, Belgaum to form local units and encourage young girls to play the game. With help from the KSHA, we also intend to provide these units with coaches.”

Another major hurdle faced by women's hockey administration is lack of sponsors for events. “We manage to run our State tournaments and inter-school events thanks to support of BTC, Shantha Kumar of Printers Mysore Group and Dayanda Pai, real estate and industrial magnate, who have been huge sources of help to us. But to embark on a sound developmental programme, we need more funds.”

The last senior nationals was held in 1983 at the Sullivan Police Grounds, but with the Nationals now, it's all set to roll on the new Astro turf at the KSHA Stadium. “About 33 teams, including States and institutions, with over 1,000 players and officials, will be participating in the tournament. We have 22 confirmed entries.”