MUMBAI: Indian hockey had been wallowing in despair for four decades as teams returned home from the Olympics empty-handed. The tide turned this week at the Tokyo Olympics.
On Thursday, Manpreet Singh's team defeated Germany 5-4 in a playoff to claim a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics -- their first medal in 41 years. A day later, the women's team led by Rani Rampal nearly did the unthinkable as it went 3-2 against Great Britain in the playoffs before losing out 4-3 to end a brilliant campaign for India at Tokyo. The women's team may not have won a medal but it did capture a billion hearts with their fighting display.
At the start of the tournament, experts believed that the men's team could reach the quarterfinals easily and a lot will depend on who we play in the last eight. Even the most ardent fans of Indian hockey would have difficulty believing that both the Indian men's and women's teams would reach the semifinals and the men would eventually return with a bronze.
But the Olympics are done and dusted. It's now time for us to build on this success and take things forwards.
The teams' performance has generated a lot of goodwill for hockey, the administrations now need to build on it so that the future is secure, said Joaquim Carvalho, who represented the country in the 1984 Olympics.
"There are four key things that need immediate attention to build upon this success. Number one is to improve the supply line of players, provide national-level training facilities from the sub-junior level and give them exposure trips so that we have a steady supply line of good players," Joaquim told IANS.
Indeed he has hit the nail on the head as Manpreet Singh's team included many players who were part of the 2016 Junior World Cup-winning team.
"Hockey India should also strengthen the domestic structure. They need to get facilities similar to the national teams then only we have a steady supply of players. We also have to conduct National championships in a proper atmosphere with players getting proper facilities, we often hear complaints of poor accommodation from the nationals," said Carvalho.
According to him, Hockey India should strengthen the all-India tournament structure, conducted by private parties, now that the Hockey India League has been discontinued.
Carvalho also wanted Hockey India to spend more money on the sport and less on administration. "States should get more grants so that they can spend more money on unearthing talent. Hockey India is getting good sponsorship money from the Odisha government, it has good reserves of funds, so it should increase the grants for states," he said.
Maybe Hockey India should follow BCCI and give grants to set up synthetic turfs in all states.
"Why should we depend on SAI and Sports Ministry for funds for everything. The sport has got a lot of attention it is time to milk it and put that money back into the game," said Carvalho.
The next two, three years are very crucial. Next year we have the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. The women have their World Cup in Spain and Netherlands in 2022 and the men's World Cup is in January 2023 at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. The focus now should shift to these events and we need to make a similar concentrated effort for these events.
As far as the women's team is concerned, Sjoerd Marijne the outgoing coach has said that they need to play more matches, get more exposure trips. Have a league of their own so that they don't suffer because of lack of experience.
Skipper Rani Rampal said continuity of coaching and support staff has to be maintained.
Carvalho said in the past the federation has sacked coaches after a few poor results. "This has to stop. You can't sack a coach after every poor match. They have to select the right coach and give enough time and the coaches should also select the right players. It is not necessary to select a foreign coach every time. There are good coaches in India too. Pick a good local coach and give him/her the same facilities that are provided to a foreign coach and see the results," he added.
Well, one thing is clear from what they all are saying -- the players have done their job. It is now for the administrators to improve things and ensure that we won't have to wait for another four decades for our next medal a the Olympics.