BHUBANESWAR: A study done in 1992 in United States threw up a startling find. “For every male field hockey player in US, there were 10 female players in the sport.” That ratio has reduced a bit in recent years, but their men continue to play catch up.
That much is evident from the contrasting records between the two national teams. While the US women’s side has qualified for six Olympics and nine World Cups (including a bronze in 1994), men have qualified for six Olympics and zero World Cups.
The why is pretty simple to answer. Boys don’t eye field hockey as a possible career option in team sport. It comes below football, baseball, basketball and ice-hockey. In fact, it’s so looked down upon as an option that the ones who do face discrimination.
“Why are you playing a girl’s sport,” is a frequent refrain that is still used today. That’s if they even find an all-boys team to play in. Most of the time, a few barrier-breakers end up playing in girls’ sides up and down the country. That’s in the hope of getting picked by the men’s hockey programme to helping the Stars and Stripes qualify for Olympics, which they haven’t on this side of the millennium.
Eighteen such men united by those dreams will continue what looks like a promising campaign as they seek a ticket for the 2020 Games. To qualify for the Series Finals in Bhubaneswar — the second stage in the qualifying process — they won a meet (Series Open) in Mexico last June. Ranked 25, captain Ajai Dhadwal said that they are on the right track, even though they can improve in both offence and defence. “Now it’s putting all the pieces together and performing to the best of our abilities over the next 10 days.” According to rank, they are the sixth-worst side in this tournament. But Dhadwal, one of three Indian-origin players in their side, will not be losing sleep over that. “World rankings are a bit trickly these days. Some of the teams are ranked lesser than where they could be. It might have a psychological effect on us, but we can’t let it get the better of us. We need to have confidence and belief. We can’t play scared hockey.”
He was even more intimate when explaining about why men’s hockey has lived away from limelight in US. “It obviously isn’t as big as the women’s side. They’re ranked higher, they have more resources, more money. But it’s exciting times for the sport. More boys are playing at the age-group level. So that’s good news.
“The women have a university system as well. They have more girls playing in clubs and high school. It’s not exactly the same for men because most of them tend to divert to football (NFL), basketball, baseball, soccer and the likes.
The support system isn’t that great for men. But it’s not something that you can complain or whine about; that’s the way it is. We have to get results with what we have.” On Thursday morning, they will aim to do just that against South Africa.