New Delhi: Indian women's hockey team will return to the Olympics after a long gap of 36 years as it qualified today for next year's Rio Games, courtesy England making it to the final of the ongoing EuroHockey Championships in London.
England's semifinal victory over Spain, coming after the Netherlands' win over Germany in the other semifinal in the European Championships freed one quota place as both the finalists have already qualified for the Olympic Games.
Indian women's hockey team in 2013. Pic/ AFP
India took the quota place on the basis of its fifth-place finish in the women's Hockey World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium last month.
International Hockey Federation (FIH) confirmed that Indian women's team has qualified for the Rio Games.
"India qualified after England defeated Spain in the semi-finals of the Unibet EuroHockey Championships in London, which ensured that the only teams -- The Netherlands and England (as Great Britain) -- who can now win the event have already qualified for Rio through the Hockey World League Semi-Finals," the FIH said in a statement.
"The winner of the EuroHockey Championships will qualify for the 2016 Olympics as European continental champions, opening up a further qualification spot which India secure as the team who ranked highest at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals not already qualified," it said.
Indian women's team now join nine other teams, who have already qualified for 2016 Rio Games -- Korea as Asian Games champions, Argentina as Pan Am Games champions and Great Britain, China, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the USA through the Hockey World League Semi-Finals.
Indian women's hockey team last featured in an Olympics in the 1980 Moscow Games, where they finished at a respectable fourth position.
Hockey India applauded the historic achievement of the women's hockey team. "It is a proud moment for Hockey India and the whole country. We have been waiting for this for the last 36 years and this achievement is the sweetest and the most memorable among all our previous feats in recent times," HI President Narinder Batra said in a release.
"I congratulate all the players and coaching staff who made this dream real and this achievement also shows their commitment toward their responsibilities. Hockey India thanks all the coaches who trained these players at their respective academies, parents, sponsors and the entire hockey fraternity, who continuously motivated the players and without their support, we could not have achieved this success. I am sure the girls will make us proud at the Olympics," he said.
Hockey India Secretary General Mohd Mushtaque Ahmad said: "The Olympics qualification is indeed a great achievement for the Indian Women Team and the Indian hockey fraternity. The players and the Coaching Staff have done a commendable job and they are still training hard for the 2016 Olympic Games. Hockey India is doing its part and fulfilling all the requirements of the team.
"I congratulate the whole team and the people who have been working hard behind the scene to achieve this success. However, the job is still half done and the team now has to set a new aim of clinching the first Olympic medal," he said.
India are the 10th team to qualify for Rio Olympics. The last two participating teams will be confirmed in the 2015 Africa Cup for Nations in Egypt and 2015 Oceania Cup in New Zealand in November.
The Indian women's team will commence its outing from August 7 in the Rio Olympics.
Eliza Nelson, who was part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics women’s hockey side that finished fourth, believes the current crop can win an Olympic medal next year at Rio de Janeiro.
"I am really proud of the current team for earning a direct qualification to the Olympics. It has come after a 36-year-long wait. I regret the fact that we came so close to winning a medal (in 1980), but had to be content with fourth place. I feel that these girls can fulfil our dream of winning a medal," said the former India captain.
However, Nelson warned the team that to win a medal, it will have to work really hard. "Now that they have qualified for the Rio Games, they need to work really hard if they want to win a medal. They need to plan and practice a lot. Their aim for the next few months should be just the Olympics. I hope they can win a medal and make us all proud." — SUNDARI IYER