While hockey is one of the fore-runners among Olympic sports when it comes to gender equality, the drive for equal opportunities within the sport has taken another step forwards with an exciting initiative from Hockey India.
Recently in the city of Pune, the second Hockey India 5-a-side National Championship (men and women) 2017 took place at the Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex in Balewadi.
What is so groundbreaking about this event is that the teams are mixed gender, with teams of nine players – five men and four women – with at least two women always on the pitch at any time.
In the final, it was the hosts Hockey Maharashtra who held their nerve to beat Hockey Karnataka 4-3. The final was a big draw with spectators turning up in big numbers to cheer their team to victory.
Aishwarya Chavan set the momentum for the home team with her third minute goal. The 1-0 lead was doubled in the next minute with a goal from local hero Devindar Walmiki. In the second quarter, Pradhan Somanna displayed good skills to score for Hockey Karnataka in the 13th minute and narrow the deficit to 1-2. But Vikas Pillay’s 14th minute goal put Hockey Maharashtra in a comfortable 3-1 lead. But the nature of the 30-minute 5-a-side game is such that one can’t afford to drop their pace at any point in their game. Hockey Maharastra did just that. Minor errors cost them two back-to-back goals by Pradhan Somanna in the 20th and 23rd minute that gave Hockey Karnataka 3-3 equalizer. It was Vikram Yadav’s 30th minute goal that eventually saw the hosts through.
For the spectators, this was a great chance to see national heroes in action and at close quarters. Among those taking part and fresh from their gold medal win at the Asia Cup, top players such as Rani Rampal, Savita Rani and Gurpreet Kaur were all starring in the competition.
Talking to The Times of India newspaper, the General Secretary of Hockey India, Manoj Bhore, said one of the aims was to pitch the event for the 2024 Olympic Games.
“Since many individual sports like tennis, shooting and badminton have been attaining gender equality at the Olympic Games, we at Hockey India thought of bringing a concept that is faster and will fulfil the equality criteria,” said Bhore.
Observers were on hand from the IOC to see how the event works, while the International Hockey Federation (FIH) was also keen to see how the format plays out.
The event, which was a huge success in its inaugural year, was developed following initial discussions between FIH President Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.
The mixed event was a precursor to the men’s and women’s National 5-a-side league and was streamed live on the Hockey India Facebook page and YouTube Live, taking the sport to millions more fans across the world.
The National Championships in Pune are a fantastic example of a National Association are fulfilling one the aims of the FIH Hockey Revolution, to achieve total gender parity on and off the field.