A 36-year-long wait ended on Saturday as the Indian women’s hockey team confirmed its berth to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The news could not have come on a better day — the National Sports Day and birthday of hockey’s original wizard, Dhyan Chand. India last played in the Olympics at Moscow in 1980 when women’s hockey made its debut.
India women’s hockey team was assured of a place in the 2016 Olympics Games after fellow contenders Spain lost to England.
The team clinched the berth to Rio thanks to England, who defeated Spain 2-1 in the semifinals of the EuroHockey Championships in London on Friday night.
Spain were the only team in the EuroHockey Championships semifinals not to have qualified for the Olympics and needed to win the title to claim the berth.
England’s victory over Spain, coming after the Netherlands 1-0 win against Germany in the first semifinal, meant two teams that had already qualified for the Olympics were in contention for the European continental title. This freed the quota place reserved for the winner in Europe.
The Indian women thus clinched their ticket to Rio through their fifth-place finish at the Hockey World League Semifinal in Antwerp, and the next highest-ranked team not to have booked a berth to Brazil.
Neglected and discriminated by administrators and public as the men’s team got all the attention and support, women’s hockey in the country got its due when the international hockey federation (FIH) confirmed the Rio ticket for the current lot.
India joined nine teams at Rio — Korea as Asian Games champions, Argentina as Pan Am Games champions, Great Britain, China, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the USA through the Hockey World League Semifinals.
This is the first time that Indian women qualified for the Olympics because the only other occasion they participated in the Olympics was through an invitation. India had finished fourth among six teams in 1980.
Qualification for the Rio Olympics is a big boost for Indian women’s hockey as teams came close many times in the past only to fall at the last hurdle.
Playing in Rio, involving top countries, would attract more youngsters to the team that has always played second fiddle to the male counterparts.
The Indian men’s team was the first to clinch the berth to Rio after winning the Asian Games gold last year.