Hoping to improve on their Tokyo performance in the next Olympics in Paris, the Indian women's hockey team is hoping to clinch a direct berth in the 2024 Games next year.
Captain Savita Punia is confident in her team's preparation and ability to finish on top of the podium at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games, which will take place in September and October of this year.
the Hangzhou Asian Games will also be a chance for the Indian team to improve upon the silver medal it won in Jakarta four years back.
“In the last Asian Games, we came close to winning the gold medal; and losing only by a goal to Japan (1-2) in the Final was heart-breaking. This time we feel that we are more determined than ever before to finish on the top,” Savita said in the latest episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India.
The Commonwealth Games (CWG) medallist and star goalkeeper Savita, who recently won the prestigious Hockey India Balbir Singh Senior Award for Player of the Year (Women) shared her thoughts on the team's progress, her journey as the team captain and equal recognition for women’s hockey.
“Every player in the team knows that we have to win the gold to earn direct qualification for the Paris Olympics. This is the best scenario for us so that post-Asian Games, we can shift focus on the FIH Pro League and then Paris 2024,” Savita was quoted as saying by Hockey India in a release on Friday.
Having taken over the captaincy from Rani Rampal post-Tokyo Olympics, Savita emphasised that she is enjoying the dual role of goalkeeping and leadership.
"There is an extra responsibility when you are leading the team. Even when I was not the captain, I knew that I had to share leadership duties and help the team as a goalkeeper. As a senior member on the side, it was my responsibility to help young and less-experienced teammates by sharing my experience with them,” she said.
The podcast also touched upon the growth and recognition of women's hockey in India in the last decade. Savita expressed her pride, saying, “If I compare today’s situation to what it was in 2008 when I joined the team, there’s a massive change and the respect for women’s hockey in the country has grown multifold. Whether it's about facilities, exposure or recognition, women’s hockey is getting its due.”
“Even the Hockey India Annual Awards serves as a great motivation for us. When the awards began, honestly, I didn't even know that a women’s team goalkeeper could be picked over the men’s team goalie for the award. So, I was like, I want to be up there, like PR Sreejesh someday, receiving the award."
Savita also shared her joy in witnessing the financial independence of her teammates due to hockey.
"When I started playing hockey, the situation was not that great and I had to wait for nine years to get a job. There were some players who were not even sure of getting two square meals a day. But now, the players are able to build houses for their families. They have regular jobs. And even the youngest member of the team is doing well financially and this shows that the sport is actually moving in the right direction," she said.