As someone who has twice been Head Coach to the India men’s national team, Cedric D’Sousa is well-placed to talk about the impact that the India national women’s team’s performance at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where they defied the odds to reach the semi-finals and finish fourth, will have upon hockey development among girls and women in the country.
“India came into the tournament ranked number 12 in the world. No-one expected them to win a medal but they throughly impressed with their performance and attitude.
“It raises the question, ‘What happened to this ladies’ team to make this change?’ Many of the players come from lesser privileged backgrounds and they used that as a source of strength. I have always said: ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent’, and I felt that was the attitude they brought with them as they faced up to higher ranked nations.”
D’Sousa, who is currently Head Coach to Austria U18 men’s team, also commented on a changing attitude towards women playing sport within Indian domestic circles. Over the past few years it has become far more acceptable for girls and women to play sport. In the past, the emphasis has been upon domestic chores and education but now, as the profile of players such as Rani, Savita and Gurjeet have hit the public’s attention, so the possibility for girls to take up sport professionally has become more accepted.
The past 18 months of pandemic restrictions has, conversely, been of some benefit to the Indian team. “The team became a family within themselves. Sjoerd Marijne did a fantastic job of keeping the players together and building bonds between them [while they lived and trained in a Covid bubble at their training camp]. Everything worked towards creating a strong group of players.”
“Rani, showing her standing as an athlete and then building a career out of it has sent a message. Hockey is no longer seen as middle class. A lot of people have looked at it and seen it is possible to get a job and secure a future out of it.
“The women’s performance at Tokyo has really opened up the game and awareness of the game to far more people.”
D’Sousa says the India women’s team went to Tokyo with no expectations but the response on their return has been phenomenal. “They grew throughout the tournament, they really performed and the Indian public has seen that. Now, the question is whether this can be taken to another level?”
For D’Sousa, the possibility of women’s hockey in India taking advantage of the women’s Olympic performance now comes down to sponsorship and media coverage. He believes that by supporting the players through media coverage and sponsorship, the national team can really challenge for medals at major events.
“The whole country, including the Prime Minister, has spoken out in praise of them. They are hungry for success, now they need to win a medal.”
Janneke Schopman will now be taking on the role of Head Coach. It is an appointment that D’Sousa thinks is perfect. “She has got to know the players really well since she joined the set-up last year and now she can take them to another level.”
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