Women hockey players, devoid of a platform for competitive hockey in and around the National Capital Region, finally got something to play in at the 10-day-long inaugural edition of the Nehru Senior Women’s Hockey Tournament which concluded on December 10 at the Shivaji Hockey Stadium.
The Indian Railways defeated Pritam Siwach Hockey Academy, Sonepat 2-1 in the final walking away with the winner’s cheque of Rs one lakh. The runners-up team got Rs 50,000.
But more than the prize, it was the opportunity for which the players and coaches are grateful.
“We were expecting a surge in domestic hockey tournaments for senior women post Covid-19 pandemic. But several organisers have postponed the competitions,” said Pritam Siwach, a former India international and owner of the Pritam Siwach Hockey Academy in Sonepat, which is around 40 kilometres from the venue of the tournament in central Delhi.
Pritam is also the coach of the Indian Railways team that won the title.
“Fewer tournaments aren’t good for the development of women’s hockey at the grassroots,” she said further.
Several domestic hockey tournaments have either been postponed or cancelled due to a lack of sponsors even as the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
In the absence of those, the Nehru Senior Women’s Hockey Tournament provided a big opportunity for youngsters to polish their competitive skills ahead of the 2023 National Women’s Hockey Championships.
Antim Rupal, who represented the Pritam Siwach academy in Sonepat, said the 10-day tournament in Delhi was a big opportunity to polish her skills.
“We wish there were more competitions for the senior girls as we hardly get to play one or two competitions in a year,” said the 21-year-old midfielder.
“There is only one senior national hockey championship under the aegis of Hockey India. For the remaining part of the year, we might get to play a one-odd domestic tournament, which is not enough to showcase our talent,” Antim added.
There was only one team based out of Delhi in the competition — the National Centre of Excellence (NCOE), Delhi.
NCOE, Delhi lost two matches and won one.
“We need to be more consistent in performances to make an impact in quality competitions,” said NCOE team coach, Mohammad Anwar.
“We plan to play regular matches with academy teams from neighbouring states, including Haryana, in the future,” added Anwar.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament (JNHT) Society has been organising age-group hockey competitions for quite some time. But the women’s tournament was being organised for the first time.
“The senior women’s tournament was missing from our calendar so we made efforts to include it in our annual programme from this year,” Walia revealed.
Despite top teams turning up at the iconic Shivaji Hockey Stadium, situated in central Delhi, there were no spectators and as Antim pointed out, “Competitions should be advertised to attract hockey fans in the Capital.”
Also read: Hurdles in the wheel of change
The JNHT Society has always received ample support from the hockey fraternity. But post-Covid-19, the market hasn’t been that supportive.
“It is a difficult situation. We had to hold several meetings with the top officials of companies to get financial support for the senior women’s hockey tournament,” Walia explained.
Expenses to organise a domestic hockey tournament that features several outstation teams can cost about Rs 25 lakh, Walia added.
“This time we were able to generate Rs 18 lakh for the inaugural edition of the senior women’s hockey event. We also managed to get a few more sponsors to give prize money to the winners and runners-up,” Walia said.
The outstation teams are provided accommodation, food and local transport.
“With a limited budget, we have to stretch to make both ends meet. Since we have to organise four to five competitions in one calendar year, we have to utilise the funds wisely,” Walia revealed.
A hockey equipment manufacturing unit from Jalandhar in Punjab was one of the sponsors for the women’s tournament and the ‘player of the match’ was given one hockey stick.
Pritam lauded the efforts of JNHT Society to take initiative to conduct a tournament in the senior women’s group.
“It was good of the JNHT Society to provide accommodation and daily allowance to players. Since the majority of the players that take up hockey are from economically weaker sections of society, boarding and lodging enable the players to play with a free mind,” Pritam said.
According to Pritam, it is always a challenging task to play tournaments that don’t offer boarding and lodging facilities.
“Sometimes, my academy girls play age group competition in Delhi and have to travel from Sonepat via train. The team plays the league match and goes back home and travels again the next day as accommodation is expensive in Delhi,” the hockey coach said.
CRPF women’s hockey coach Basanta Singh expressed similar views.
Tournaments in the post-Covid-19 pandemic period have shrunk which is a big setback to the development of women’s hockey in the country, said Singh.
“Surjit Hockey for Senior Women in Jalandhar and Baba Farid Hockey Tournament for Senior Women in Faridkot have been postponed, which isn’t good for the health of hockey at the grassroots level,” Singh added.
“More tournaments are necessary. I believe a minimum of six tournaments should be organised in one calendar year,” the CRPF coach said.
The lack of sponsors has affected another major hockey tournament in Delhi, the Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey Tournament. The organisers have struggled to hold a full-fledged tournament for men, let alone think of having an edition for women.
KD Parashar, honorary secretary of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey Tournament Committee said that the sponsors have dried up post-Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had only eight teams for the 2022 edition of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey (Men’s) Tournament held last month here at the Shivaji Hockey Stadium as there were no major sponsors,” Parashar said.
Of the eight teams, four were Delhi-based, including Punjab National Bank and Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) National Centre of Excellence (NCOE), Delhi.
“We wanted to have a minimum of 12 teams but lack of funds was a big challenge. The minimum expenditure for eight teams was approximately Rs 50 lakh,” Prashar added.
The 2019 edition of Shastri Hockey was shifted to Amritsar in Punjab as one of the sponsors offered hospitality, while the 2018 edition was held in Chandigarh.
“Hockey fans in Delhi look forward to Shastri Hockey as top teams come to play but sometimes there are no sponsors,” Parashar said.
The three-decade-old Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey Tournament Committee is running on reputation and mainly relies on old, loyal sponsors associated with hockey for a long time.
“We generally depend on our old sponsors to organise the competition. There is no company or financial institution that is willing to spend Rs 20 or 30 lakh for a domestic hockey tournament,” Parashar revealed.
Follow us on: