Two states in India are known for producing women hockey players of repute — Punjab and Manipur, besides Jharkhand and Odisha. But the comparison of the sporting infrastructure and hockey facilities in these states are a study in contrast. While Punjab has around 15 astro-turf stadiums with some of them having world-class facilities, strife-torn Manipur got its first professional hockey stadium in 1999 when the National Games was held there. Before that, athletes used to practice on grass turfs.
“In Manipur, there was just one ground, in Imphal. Therefore, we used to get very less time for practise. The ground was also in a poor condition,” said Chanchan Devi, a hockey star from the state, who debuted for India during the 7th Asia Cup in Thailand in 2009.
“If any player from Manipur makes it to the national side, the entire credit must be given to him or her, thanks to lack of support from the government and sporting bodies,” she added.
“Being from a Northeast state means, if you want to go to your home, it would take three to four days, as most of the places where training camps are conducted are far from Imphal… We cannot afford planes fare,” she said.
Chanchan Devi, who achieved the rare distinction of earning 100th cap during a match against South Korea at Glasgow in 2014, rues the fact that she has not got any support from the government.
Chanchan Devi Thokchom dodges past Scotland defence during a hockey match in New Delhi. (HT photo)
“It has been 10 years since I am playing hockey and I have not received a penny from the government,” lamented Devi, adding that there is still support for the athletes who play individual games, but same can’t be said about hockey players.
Devi takes her inspiration from Suraj Lata Devi, former captain of India women’s hockey team who hails from Manipur. Lata had led the team to the Gold for three consecutive years: during the 2002 Commonwealth Games, 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and 2004 Hockey Asia Cup.
“I keep talking to Didi over phone, she is an inspiring for players like us,” said Devi.
Indian hockey player Sushila Chanu during a match in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
The other Manipuri players in the team Sushila Chanu—current captain of Indian women’s junior hockey team and defender in the national team—too echoed the sentiment.
“We recently won the junior World Cup under my captaincy, but when I returned, there was not a single official from the state government to receive me at the airport,” an emotional Chanu recalled.