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Women hockey revival started 26 years ago at Hiros (6/25/2019)
--K. Arumugam
Indian women hockey team clinched a major FIH title last Sunday at Hiroshima. The 3-1 win over traditional tormentor Japan in the FIH Series Finals reminds how 26 years ago our women hockey made a remarkable comeback to the global hockey at the same city. And how that victory in 1993 Asia Cup against the same hosts transformed Indian women hockey forever, and with that a sordid phase that the Indian ladies went through for about a decade, had come to an end, evoking in the process a series of 'Chak de' moments.

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About 30 men and women hockey players were undergoing almost a six-month training camp in the late 90s in various Government facilities in Punjab. Their task was to earn berth for the Barcelona Olympics. Indian men came behind Pakistan in the Beijing Asian Games and were thus relegated to fight for Olympic slot in the Auckland Olympic Qualifier, a 12-team event. Indian women too did not do well at the said Asian Games and were lucky to get a draw in Auckland. Lucky because those days only 8 women teams were allowed for the Olympics, the fight for the Olympic slot therefore was intense.

However, when the time came to start the journey for Auckland Indian government refused to give sanction for the women while the men's team, who always had a comfort zone in such matters, got the nod. It wasa huge disappoiontment for the girls including legendary Rajbir Rai (Three Asian Games in her kitty, she was the most decorated and well known athlete of her times). undefined

Incidentally there were two women who were holding top notch post then when the women were deprived of their right to be in Auckland. Present Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee was the Union Sports Miniter while another lady IAS officcer was head of Sports Authority of India.

The duo were guided by the report of a Committee headed by none other than the gold winning 1982 Asian Games Women hockey team coach Balkishen Singh. Though he was Men's coach for the Auckland, he had a say in women hockey matters being Hockey Head of National Institute of Sports, Patiala.

No amount of crying by those girls, reasoning by coach MK Kaushik and manouveres of politically strong duo of Arnawaz Damania and Mrs. Nirmal Singh -- who ran the IWHF then - did work.

Women hockey for time being was frozen.

The next big thing for the women was Asia Cup, Hiroshima. There were clearance issue for women too but a bureacrat suggested that the team can be okeyed if the coach can give a written gurantee for medal! Kaushik was willing, and rescued the women's team and the IWHF (Indian Women Hockey Federation) giving written guarantee.

Indian team led by Raijbir Rai lost semis to Korea but went on to win a famous bronze at the cost of hosts Japan. The 1-0 win paved way for Indian women's hockey getting regular clearances thereafter.

Kaushik did not lost long after his team failed to get a medal at the 1994 Asian Games, where the hosts Japan extracted revenge in the bronze medal match

Col. Balbir Singh appeared on the scene and took the girls through various rounds of Qualification for the Utretcht World Cup. Same year when Kaushik moved to men's, GS Bhangu and SS Saini took the girls to Bangkok Asiad silver.

The girls thereafter, despite OQ fiasco due to dissention and discipline issues, bounced back to recokoning when they won the 2002 Manchester Common Wealth Games gold. It was a cindrella kind of result that put women's hockey on top of Indian sports scenario. Surajlata Devi, Manjinder Kaur, Pritamrani Siwach, Sita Hossain, Jothi Sunita Kullu, Tingonleima Chanu, Mamta Kharab and Amarinder Kaur turned out to be house hold names.

Their feat at Manchester even inspired Bollywood that came up with epic movie Chak De India.

Indian girls now are now top ranked Asian team, ahead of traidtional power houses South Korea and China.

They are the reigning Asia Cup and Asian Champions Trophy champions ahead of Asian trio of Japan, Korea and China.

That they failed to annex the title at Jakarta was a jarring note in an otherwise revived Indian women hockey.

It all started at Hiroshima 26 years ago with a bronze medal.

PIC: women hockey team of early 90s

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