India’s women’s hockey team met with a humiliating 5-0 defeat against Argentina in Pool B on Saturday. Finishing last in the group, India ended its campaign at the women’s hockey at Rio Olympics 2016. This defeat once again brings to light an unpalatable episode- the unceremonious dumping of Ritu Rani (former Captain of women’s hockey team) from the Rio Olympics squad on a flimsy pretext.
Rani, through whose remarkable feat, Indian women’s hockey team was able to break a 36-year jinx and make a comeback to the Olympics, was dropped on unexplained and so called ‘disciplinary’ and ‘performance’ grounds. The distressed 24-year old athlete, in an interview to NDTV said that post her engagement not only was she relieved of her captaincy, but was also dropped from the Olympics squad.
While she led the team to win medals in the Asia Cup in 2013, Asian Games in 2014 and helped Indian sports fans nurse a dream for a win at the Rio Olympics, Ritu Rani didn’t know that she wouldn’t be on the flight to Brazil this year.
On leading her team to qualify for the Rio Olympics 2016, Ritu Rani had said, “I’ve been dreaming of playing in Olympics for 10 years. It is an honour to be leading this special team”. Right after her dismissal, the wounded athlete wished she had never worked so hard.
The ‘Ritu Rani’ controversy has actually touched a raw nerve. While her story is out in the open, there maybe many more such stories – untold and unheard of.
While Indian women’s historic lackluster in the sport have been brilliantly riposte to lack of speed and stamina, especially in the face of the Europeans and Australians, we need to accept the fact that even today India does not have a healthy sporting culture.
The bitter truth is that our athletes have no representation, corruption continues to take its toll and the world still wonders why India, with its 1.25 billion population, performs so sickly when it comes to sports (barring Cricket), despite being a part of the Olympics since 1900.
Cultivating a healthy sporting culture and taking Ritu Rani’s tragic episode as a lesson is a prerequisite for Indian sports to flourish. Perhaps under her proven leadership, women’s hockey team could have fared better. Perhaps, a clarion call is in the making so that well-deserved athletes are not subjected to humiliation and rejection for mere biases of the selection committee, or are dismissed on the ‘flimsy pretext’. Until then – India will have to wait for its ‘Chak de India’ moment.