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OQT W: History of Indian women against foe USA (10/30/2019)
--K. Arumugam
History sure has a funny way of repeating itself. The FIH draw pitted India against the United States of America in a two-legged Women’s Olympic hockey qualifier. And that, disconcertingly, provides a déjà vu and a trip down memory lane that reveals a history of bitter rivalry. Probably women’s hockey’s worst kept secret. Something perhaps akin to India vs Pakistan in the men’s game, going by several events that suggest such a label.


Exactly 18 years ago, a World Cup hockey qualifier was held in twin cities of Amiens and Paris, France. The top six finishers of the 16-team event were billed to qualify for the 2002 Perth World Cup. Six days before the start, 9/11 occured and, as events unfolded, it impacted Indian women’s hockey in a huge way!

The US, second seeds, confirmed participation with reassuring words: “Sports can solace the souls”. However, their travel plans went awry due to severe flight restrictions that followed the catastrophe in New York. Alive to the extraordinary situation that the US faced, the FIH announced an unprecedented 3-match Test series between the Americans and the qualifier’s seventh-placed team. The winner of the series, to be hosted by the nation placed seventh, would make it to Perth.

It happened to be India who finished seventh. undefined

AK Bansal, the new coach in charge of India in only his second -- and last -- outing failed to finish sixth or better after losing to Scotland 1-2.

The defeat deprived Bansal’s team of direct qualification to the Perth showpiece. For reasons best known to them, the US were reluctant to come to India. The FIH went on to suggest holding the playoff at a neutral venue and Randburg, South Africa, and Brussels, Belgium, were among two cities shortlisted.

Vidya Stokes, chairman of the now defunct Indian Hockey Confederation, however, would not play ball. Ultimately, months later, the USA led by redoubtable midfielder Tracey Fuchs landed in New Delhi on May 22d, 10 days ahead of the scheduled match.

Coached by Shiv Jagdev, a Canadian of Indian origin, the Americans practiced behind closed doors, endured a media gag and arranged practice matches with teams from Ludhiana.

However, even as a media conference was being held to announce Indian team at IWHF HQ (National Stadium, New Delhi on May 25h, the Americans had already left India a few hours before!

The IHC cried foul and demanded Rs 25 lakh compensation for loss of revenue but in vain.

Security oficer Larry Buenderp, travelling with the team, produced a media advisory in his support for the departure, while around the same time, a US embassy official at the presser held the view that the advisory was just routine and not a “red alert”.

Like present day India-Pakistan tensions on at the border, it was found that the US was also receiving mysteriously threatening faxes from India!

Six months later the mystery was solved when it was learned that a resident in a remote part of Tamil Nadu sent those faxes to the United States Field Hockey Federation.

Within days, the FIH moved the venue from Delhi to Connock, England. Reluctantly, India made the trip but lost the series.

Eight years prior, India lost to the USA too in dramatic fashion and lost out on a place in the 1994 World Cup in Dublin, Ireland.

The Indian girls did not clinch the last qualifying slot in Philadelphia, USA, when Rajbir Rai??? failed with her effort in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.

History repeated itself yet again with the US proving to be India’s nemesis which was now turning out to be an open secret.


In the Olympic Qualifier in Kazan, Russia, India once again lost out to the USA.

What is relevant from the 2001 episode is that the India-Pakistan border situation akin to 2001.

Hockey India, this time around, has a stronger will and character than then and is unlikely to fall prey to to US off-field tactics that worked then.

On the pitch, however, twice winners of Pan American titles in the last decade despite the presence of powerhouses Argentina will be formidable opponents in Bhubaneswar.

In recent times, however, India held the US 1-1 at the London World Cup only a year and a bit ago.

And with a full-throated partisan crowd behind them, Rani Rampal’s team could well dig into an extra reserve of energy and determination to go one better and book coveted tickets to Tokyo 2020.

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