In 2002, when the Indian women’s hockey team won the Commonwealth Games gold, Pritam Rani Siwach was one of the pillars of that victory. But the 46-year old is happier and prouder today with three of her trainees making it to the squad for the Tokyo Olympics.
The three — Neha Goyal, Nisha Warsi and Sharmila — are products of the academy run by Pritam and her husband Kuldeep in Sonepat since 2004. While Neha has been around for a while, cementing her place in the national side, Sharmila and Nisha are relative newcomers to the international arena.
Proud as a parent
“I feel like I am personally going to play in the Olympics, I don’t think I ever felt this proud even as a player. It is like three of my own daughters have achieved something.
“Given their background and the absence of support, for them to reach this level and for a small academy like mine to have a role in their development, the feeling cannot be explained,” Pritam told Sportstar .
While Neha’s story has been told before — an abusive father, a supportive mother and her determination — Pritam believes Nisha and Sharmila deserve equal appreciation.
“Nisha too has been with me for almost seven to eight years, she came as a fifth-standard student. Her father works in a small sari showroom as a helper but is home now due to medical reasons.
“Coming from a Muslim family, it was far more difficult for her to pursue sports because of societal pressure even though she lived very close to Neha’s house. She even quit for a while before I convinced her mother and sister to let her continue.
“And, now she has a job with Railways and will be an Olympian! Her family still cannot understand the magnitude of her achievement,” Pritam gushed.
Sharmila, on the other hand, had other hurdles. Despite a supportive family, Sharmila, who belongs to Kandi village in Hisar had to adjust to living on her own all these years.
“Several of my girls stay at the Tika Ram School hostel because we do not have a residential academy or place for them to stay. She managed her life and food, etc herself till she joined the National camp,” Pritam said.
While it's true that former players don't necessarily make good coaches, it's equally true that not too many in Indian hockey work at the grassroots, scouting and developing talent. Among women, Pritam is perhaps the only one doing so.
Proof of success
She insists she isn’t looking for any long-term financial support from the officials. “For girls like them, I hope the government takes note of our efforts and supports us. All we seek is sanctioning an astro-turf field and a residential academy.
“The operational part we will manage ourselves. I have applied many times but there has been no response. If they want proof of success, I think these girls have given them that. Hopefully now things will move,” she said.