‘Jobless’ goalkeeper Savita hopes Asia cup win ends 9-year wait

The India women’s hockey team custodian says she was promised a job under Haryana Government’s ‘Medal Lao, Naukri Pao’ scheme, but it was only limited to assurances by officers.

Savita produced a stunning save in a tense shootout in the thrilling final against China to help India win the Asia Cup women’s hockey title last week.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

On Sunday night, women's hockey was trending across the country. India had won the Asia Cup and the girls were the toast of the nation. And none more than goalkeeper Savita Punia, who brought off the final winning save to deny higher-ranked China.

Harendra Singh: ‘Asia Cup is just the foundation, more to come’

But applause on social media means little to the 27-year old with more than 150 international caps and the team's primary custodian for a decade now. Despite all her heroics – Savita was instrumental in India qualifying for the Rio Olympics, winning the Asian Champions Trophy last year and finishing on the podium in the previous Asia Cup – she remains jobless.

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“I have met the Haryana government officials including sports minister Anil Vij several times. My father has also been visiting government offices in Chandigarh since 2013. Every time the answer is same – we are looking into it. Sometimes it does get irritating, there is frustration also. It's not just about need – everyone needs job security. It is also about respect, despite being the seniormost in the side besides Rani, I am the only one still dependent on my parents” a sleepy-eyed, hurt but still proud Savita told Sportstar a day after the team returned from Kakamigahara, Japan.

The girls had been moving from one media house office to another since morning – four at last count with as many more to come in the second half of the day – and the brief respite for lunch was the only time they had to themselves. Despite the jetlag, the girls – Navneet Kaur, Navjot Kaur, captain Rani Rampal and Savita — were happy at the recognition coming their way. They were also disappointed that lack of telecast meant no one saw their efforts or triumph.

No recognition, no reward

Everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar had congratulated the team, including Haryana CM M.L. Khattar. But his own government has done little to recognise the achievements of Savita. “The Haryana government is otherwise very quick to recognise and reward its sportspersons. In my case, however, there is only silence,” she shrugged. Savita is now planning to meet Vij once again after returning home and, in case nothing materialises, try and approach sports minister Rajyavardhan Rathore for support. “As a former sportsperson, he must understand a player's struggles better,” she hoped.

Despite all the neglect, however, the ace goalkeeper is determined to give her best every time she goes out on the field. She admits to learning a lot from her male counterpart PR Sreejesh and his predecessor Bharat Chetri – now coach with the women's team. “When the final went into shoot-out, he was the first to run up to me and tell me to relax, stay calm and not think of the result or even the next shot. The fact is we girls get tense more easily than the men. But he has been a great help even during trainings,” Savita said.

The biggest change, however, has come with the arrival of coach Harendra Singh. “There has been a 180 degree change. He motivates all the time, saying we owe it to the nation. He cites the men's example where results have brought more recognition. He work equally hard in planning strategies. There has been a lot of technical input also, a lot of work on planning and execution. Most importantly, as an Indian coach, he understands the Indian mindset and strengths and encouraged the team to play more attacking hockey. Even if we concede a goal, he doesn't get upset and only pushes the team further, saying scoring two will always win against conceding one,” Savita explained.

A new beginning has been made on field. For Savita, the old, unfulfilled promises continue to rankle.

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