This can happen only in India. Just when it’s chin-up time for the national women’s hockey team, the Indian Women’s Hockey federation (IWHF) seems to have decided to give it the thumbs-down. Why else did the federation mete out the shabby treatment that it did to the triumphant hockey team that returned from a tour of Australia after winning seven out of eight matches? Not only were the girls reportedly lodged in a decrepit dormitory with dirty toilets and kitchen at the Karnail Singh Stadium in the capital, but also had their match fees and stipends suspended!
It was a nightmarish experience as 14 players were stashed together in a room with no clean blankets, which left them unable to sleep and recover from tiredness. The IWHF’s explanation that the guesthouse where the team was scheduled to stay had suddenly run out of rooms is a feeble attempt at damage control. From all accounts, the players’ stipend was also stopped inexplicably six months ago, forcing them to buy everything from hockey sticks to expensive shoes themselves. As if this wasn’t disgraceful enough, the IWHF also owes the players more than an apology for choking the funds released for kit and equipment by the Sports Ministry. How could any team that is preparing for the biggest test of their lives — the Olympic qualifiers — be expected to take such intrigues in its stride and still excel on the field?
It is a sad fact that this is particularly true of sportswomen in team games like hockey and football, who are seldom considered ‘star’ material or role models — unlike, say, in tennis or athletics that invariably recognises individual brilliance. As a result, some of the best dribblers in the world get to stay at hotels where even state cricket teams wouldn’t, and are still expected to play their hearts out for a paltry match fees at the end of the day. It is a tribute to the enterprise of sportspeople in the country that they continue to excel despite these hurdles — be it sprinters running barefoot on sandy beaches to increase speed or weight-lifters substituting rocks for dumbbells. The least that people who preside over sports bodies can do is to ask themselves why, even after successful outings, our sportspeople — with the notable exception of cricketers — are subjected to such humiliating treatment when they return home.