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Coach Janneke Schopman should bow out gracefully!

Updated on: 22 February,2024 12:31 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Ashwin Ferro |

Schopman’s contract with Indian hockey ends around July-August and her latest rant against Hockey India has only confirmed her departure thereafter

Coach Janneke Schopman should bow out gracefully!

India women's hockey chief coach Janneke Schopman during a practice session at Bhubaneswar recently. (Pic/Hockey India)

Key Highlights

  1. Schopman’s contract with the national team ends around July-August
  2. There may be many reasons attributed to Indian women’s team’s failures in the last 2 yrs
  3. Schopman has had her good moments with this team too

India women’s hockey has not enjoyed a good run in the last few months, be it their Asian Games bronze medal-finish in China, their unimpressive fourth-place show at the Paris Olympic qualifier tournament in Ranchi or their string of defeats at the ongoing FIH Pro League in Odisha. And now with coach Janneke Schopman, 46, alleging gender discrimination by Hockey India officials, things can only get gloomier for Indian hockey’s women in blue.

Schopman’s contract with the national team ends around July-August and her latest rant against Indian hockey’s parent body has only confirmed her departure thereafter.

When Schopman, a 2006 Madrid World Cup and 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal-winning player, took over the coaching reins from compatriot Sjoerd Marijne of the Netherlands after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she was expected to take the Indian women’s team to a higher level. Under Marijne, skipper Rani Rampal’s team had achieved a historic fourth-place finish at Tokyo, so the bar was already high. However, the fact that the Indian women’s hockey team’s only two significant achievements under Schopman since then are bronze medal finishes at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games clearly shows that she hasn’t been able to deliver even reasonable highs with this team. Furthermore, the team’s failure to qualify for this year’s Paris Olympics, despite being given a more than reasonable chance to do so at home, has only confirmed her status as an under-achiever with this team. At the eight-team Olympic qualifiers in Ranchi, where only one team was ranked above the Savita Punia-led Indian team, a top-three finish would have confirmed Team India’s flight tickets to Paris. However, a defeat to Japan in the bronze-medal match broke the hearts of hockey aficionados across the country. Thereafter, the Indian women have played eight FIH Pro League matches in their own backyard, at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, and have lost five times (twice each against China and the Netherlands and once against Australia).

Also Read: Indian women’s team defeats Australia 1-0 for second win in the event

There may be many reasons attributed to the Indian women’s team’s failures in the last two years, but none more significant than the shocking ouster of mercurial striker Rampal immediately after the Tokyo Olympics. Schopman did not utter a word about the axing of the team’s erstwhile skipper and star striker, who has till date not announced her retirement from the game, considering she’s still good enough to don the Indian jersey. Some of Hockey India’s bosses were said to be behind Rampal’s ouster, but being the chief coach, Schopman should have addressed the issue publicly at least for the sake of the fans of this globally-acclaimed player, who could have been the perfect finisher for a team that has been lacking one for almost two years now.

Schopman has had her good moments with this team too. Under her, many junior India players have gone on to don the senior jersey. Besides, the younger players in the senior squad have enjoyed a lot of encouragement and support from the veteran coach. Also, being the team’s analytical coach under Marijne before taking over as chief coach, Schopman has worked hard on shaping this team’s strategies based on her sound scientific and technical knowledge of modern hockey. There has been a spring in the step as this team tends to attack a lot more aggressively than the teams of yesteryear, with switchovers and counters being executed with flair. Finally, the language barrier notwithstanding, Schopman has had many one-on-one sessions with her girls whenever she felt that the chips are low due to certain on-field or off-field circumstances. Unfortunately for her though, those chats have not proportionately resulted in success on the hockey turf.

The next major assignment for coach Schopman is the away leg of the FIH Pro League in May-June. And going by the results at home, this seems to be a much bigger challenge to tackle. Schopman will do well though to hold her head up high and exit the Indian hockey scene gracefully, if she has to, later this year as there has been no lack of effort either from her or the girls. Grumbling about a system that has given Indian women’s hockey fair international exposure and opportunities may not be a good enough defence for an acclaimed professional.

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