Women's hockey hopes to deliver

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/h/hockey3.jpg' class='caption'> The women's team hopes to make up for the men's defeat as they prepare to play the Olympics qualifiers.

Reported by: NDTVSports
Last updated on Thursday, 13 March, 2008 13:42 IST
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Lucknow, New Delhi:

With the Indian men's hockey team doing the crash and burn routine at the Olympic qualifiers in Chile, the focus now shifts to the women.

They're hoping to win the qualifiers of the Beijing Olympics. If they can make it, it will be just the 2nd time they would be qualifying after the Moscow in 1980.

Members of the young hockey team gathered in Gwalior to play a junior tournament.

In fact it was at this tournament that the Orissa team were promised 1000 rupees for each goal. The girls responded in style scoring, eleven times in two games. And that's when the federation realised that their bank balance was zero. Maybe they didn't expect the girls to score.

AN Behari, coach of the Orissa women's team, says, "Hockey in Orissa is run fully by the government, the association has no money, there are no sponsors. As long as the government helps, there's no problem. But there are players from outside, when their hostel term finishes, it's a problem, where do they go."

Lack of money is an old story now in Indian sport. But despite those obstacles India has managed to hold its own in women's hockey.

A gold in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester was their crowing glory. It inspired Jaideep Sahni to script Chak De India. The team followed it up by winning a silver in the next commonwealth games and they also won the Asia Cup.

Now the team aims for greater glory by qualifying for the Olympics after 28 years. MK Kaushik, who was out of favour with the federation for a few years is back now. But with just 2 months to go before the Olympic qualifiers, he's not promising the moon.

He says, "The longer you are team the more beneficial it is. I expected they would continue when I left the team in 2006. I thought from there they would pick up but unfortunately they haven't. I think team has declined but the girls are motivated I am confident the girls will return to form lets see we will try our best."

Surprisingly, despite the success of Chak De, the Indian Hockey Federation could not add a single sponsor to its kitty. The only association they've had even before the film is their only one. City Limousines that pays for the team jerseys.

The federation though isn't looking at how to help themselves. They want more government help and quicker reimbursements from the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

Amrit Bose, secretary, Indian Women's Hockey Federation, says "Look at the situation, there are less than two months for the Olympic qualifiers, and you expect the girls to do well? Everyone blames the federation, but the federation also has some limitations."

Shortage of funds has resulted in players having to spend their own money to buy equipment while on a recent exposure trip to Australia. The state of junior level players is even worse.

GS Bhangu, former Coach talks about a goalkeeper from Tripura, who was playing with pads from the 1950s, made of bamboo.

"This category of players belong to the low and middle income group, they can't afford the kits. The goalkeeper kit for example is for 80,000 rupees. No one can afford that, no association can do that. Just like people sponsor cricket, they should sponsor hockey also," she says.

Ritu Rani, member of the women's Team, says "The movie has not made any impact on us so far."

Kaushik says, "Shah Rukh Khan is a motivating factor for girls and has given good impact on this Chak De movement. It will help if he can come. Coordinating with him for a pep talk to the girls is up to the authorities."

It's ironic but it seems Chak De has done more for Indian cricket than hockey. The film is a hit and so are the Chak De girls but the ground realities remain pretty much the same.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, there are talks of introducing indoor hockey tournaments, which is the basis of European hockey, some time soon here.

Story first published on: Thursday, 13 March 2008 13:42 IST

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