Hockey is one of the world’s most ancient games, even older than the Olympics. There are traces of the game played in history dating back to 4000 years ago. Field hockey, commonly known as hockey, is a sport played on grass, watered turf, artificial turf, or synthetic. Each team has ten outfield players and a goalkeeper. Players use sticks shaped like a hook to hit a round, hard, plastic hockey ball. The aim is to score as many goals as you can using the stick, and the team with the most goals wins.
Similar to hockey, a game was played in the 17th century in Punjab under the name khido khundi (khido refers to the woolen ball, and khundi to the stick).
India has been quite successful in this sport for quite some time. The Indian men’s national hockey team was the first non-European team to be a part of the International Hockey Federation. The Indian team won their first Olympic gold medal in 1928, and until 1960, the Indian men’s team was unbeaten in the Olympics, winning six gold medals in a row. The team also won the 1975 World Cup. India’s hockey team is the most successful ever in the Olympics, having won eight gold, one silver, and two bronze medals.
After their gold medal win at the 1980 Olympics, the team’s performance declined through the next three decades, with the team failing to win a single medal at the Olympics or the World Cup. Despite this, India continued to remain on top in Asia by winning the 1998 Asian Games, 2003 Asia Cup, and 2011 Asian Champions Trophy. In 2016, the Indian men’s team won its first-ever silver medal in the Champions Trophy and reached the Olympics’ knockout stage for the first time in 36 years.
The Indian women’s national hockey team (nicknamed the Nabhvarna) is ranked 9th in the FIH World Rankings. The team’s breakthrough performance came at the Women’s Hockey World Cup at Mandelieu in 1974, where it finished in 4th place. Their best performance in the Olympic Games was at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics (where they came in 4th) when a women’s event was held for the first time in Olympic history. They also won the Gold medal at the inaugural 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, defeating Korea.
Captain Suraj Lata Devi led the team to the Gold medal for three consecutive years at different events – during the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and the 2004 Women’s Hockey Asia Cup. The team earned a 3rd-place finish at the 2013 Women’s Hockey Asia Cup at Kuala Lumpur, defeating China in a shootout.
From February 2018, Odisha’s state government started sponsoring the Indian national field hockey team, both men and women teams. In a first-of-its-kind association, the state has decided to support India’s team for the next five years.
This has been the journey of the sport in India so far. It is to be seen where the National sport of the country goes from here on.