Indian hockey team returns home after COVID-19 lockdown

Both the men’s and women’s national hockey teams were stuck at a SAI facility since March 25 when the government announced a nationwide shutdown.

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Both the men’s and women’s teams were stuck at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru since March 25.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Indian women’s hockey team captain Rani Rampal on Monday said meeting her family was the only thing she craved when the players were confined to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bengaluru for over two months because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Both the men’s and women’s national teams were stuck there since March 25 when the government announced the nationwide shutdown.

However, last week the players were granted permission to return to their respective homes on a month-long break.

Rani who returned to Shahbad in Haryana could not hide her happiness on meeting her family.

“I know a lot of people had been craving to travel or to eat outside, but the only thing I had been craving during lockdown was meeting my family,” the 25-year-old said.

“I am so happy that I am finally here and can spend some days with them. My focus will be on maintaining my fitness even at home, and making sure I spend my time with my loved ones,” she added.

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Even though the players are used to spending close to 300 days in a year away from their families, this particular period was different for each one of them as the world battled a pandemic.

Having returned home over the weekend, the players have been able to reconnect with their loved ones and spend some quality time at their homes.

Men’s team captain Manpreet Singh seemed delighted at the opportunity of not just meeting his mother and brother, but also his two pet dogs.

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“It was such a great feeling to have returned home to my mother, brother and my two dogs, Sam and Rio,” he said.

“Even though I was in constant touch over video calls, I was really looking forward to being back home, and all I can say is that it felt so good to be back home - it just gave me goosebumps,” added Manpreet who returned to his native Jalandhar.

Men’s team forward Mandeep Singh said he is fortunate to have got the opportunity but wants to maintain his routine to ensure top performances once he is back to playing competitive hockey in the future.

“When I stepped inside the house, the energy I felt was just out of this world. I returned after such a long time so it was nice to meet my family and to spend time with them,” Mandeep said.

“However, I speak on behalf of all the players when I say that one thing we will not forget is to maintain our fitness and routine during this break. We know it is imperative to remain in top shape, and we will be focused on that, and I am sure we will be helped by our families and friends as well,” he added.

Women’s midfielder Neha Goyal also expressed excitement at coming back to meet her mother in Sonipat.

“During the early part of lockdown, my sister had come down to stay with my mother but once the restrictions eased a bit she had to return to her in-laws. When I came back and presented my mother my ‘Hockey India Ajit Pal Singh Award for Midfielder of the Year 2019’ trophy, the happiness on her face was what I had missed seeing for the past three months,” the 23-year-old said.

“I am really happy to be back with her and am looking forward to helping her in daily chores as well,” she added.

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