The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams’ reaching the last four at the Tokyo Olympic Games has not only scripted a piece of history but has also marked the sport’s much-awaited revival in the country.
While the men have broken the jinx to reach the Olympics medal round after 41 years, the women making their maiden semifinal appearance in the Olympics cannot be termed a fluke. It reflects their status in world hockey.
Several factors were responsible for lifting hockey from a desperate state just over a decade ago, when it had failed to qualify for the Olympics (Beijing 2008) for the first time in 88 years.
As far as the men’s team is concerned, working with high quality international coaches – including Terry Walsh, Roelant Oltmans and now Graham Reid – for the last few years has brought in a change in the culture and work ethics of the side.
The women also worked with Australian Neil Hawgood for a few years, but the turnaround came under hardworking Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne and Janneke Schopman, a World and Olympic champion who serves as an analytical coach and helps the girls in mental training. They have played significant roles.
Coach Harendra Singh, who guided the 2016 Junior World Cup winning Indian men’s side, and helped the elite women’s team win the 2017 Asia Cup and qualify for the 2018 World Cup, also played his part.
Apart from getting top class coaches, the teams got the best of facilities, including scientific support and services of psychologists, nutritionists, physios, trainers and video analysts.
Exposure against elite international sides polished the players.
The improved fitness level was another aspect that enabled them to keep pace with the energetic European sides in high intensity matches.
Selection of players on the basis of form and fitness instead of reputation did a world of good to the Indian teams, ensuring they had the right balance of youth and experience.
The players now perform like a unit without any selfish approach, the kind of which had dented the progress of Indian hockey teams in the past.
A good supply line of players is an added advantage.
Increased mental toughness, a result of several activities done by the teams, has toughened players up, and they are now able to withstand pressure in the closing minutes of a match.
As a result of these efforts, the men’s team has started winning medals in big-ticket events such as the Champions Trophy and the World League.
Backing from Odisha
Hockey was also fortunate to get the solid backing of the Odisha Government, which set a unique example by sponsoring the National teams. Apart from taking care of the sport and the players, the state also ensured adequate exposure for them by hosting premium international events, including the World Cup, World League, Champions Trophy and Olympic qualifier.
After hosting the 2018 men’s World Cup successfully in Bhubaneswar, the Odisha Government has taken up the responsibility of organising its 2023 edition, for the first time in two cities – Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. For this, it has approved an estimated outlay of Rs 356.38 crore for the development of infrastructure at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and the construction of the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela.
The concerted effort will go a significant way in restoring hockey’s lost pride and help the country emerge again as a superpower in the sport.