Dr. Vece Paes on Tokyo bronze: ‘Indian team has shown guts and skills to fight back and chase its dreams’

From being hammered by Australia 7-1 in the second game of the Olympics to winning a bronze medal is a remarkable achievement. In old days, such results had a negative impact on the team and we would eventually be out of the tournament. But this bunch has shown guts and skills to fight back and chase their dreams. I think this team – along with coach Graham Reid and other support staff – should be kept together, going forward. There will be an Asian Games next year and other major tournaments, so we need to sustain ourselves and ensure that this core team is kept intact.

READ:
India ends 41-year wait to win Olympic medal, beats Germany to win bronze

There are two ways of looking at it. A good coach like Reid – who has played top-level hockey for Australia – would be familiar with the players and he would have the respect of the players. The other way of looking at it is that whatever he had to teach, he has taught over the last few years, so can he add anything more? That’s a question.

In tennis, after every two or three years – depending on what you are targeting – the coach is changed keeping the skill factor in mind. But I think for Indian hockey, it is important to stick to a similar formula that has worked for us in Tokyo. So we should stick to the coach and captain.

“Three or four years ago, I was worried that hockey would soon be bypassed and the focus will solely be on cricket and badminton, but I am glad that Hockey India persisted with the team and backed the players and the result is here.”

The Olympics is a four-year-cycle, but due to the pandemic, you will have the next Olympics in three years, so we need to start planning already and having a similar team for Paris 2024 could help.

Over the years, India has emerged as a big draw for foreign players to come and play in the league (the now defunct Hockey India League) because they were able to earn a lot of money. But it helped our players get exposed to top foreign players. Three or four years ago, I was worried that hockey would soon be bypassed and the focus will solely be on cricket and badminton, but I am glad that Hockey India persisted with the team and backed the players and the result is here.

The corporate groups and government sector units like Hero, Coal India and Odisha have backed the game at the lower level and I must admit that there is a lot of depth in terms of competition. And we cannot afford to lose the plot from here.

There are often questions on why we gradually lost the plot after 1980 and being a part of the 1972 Olympics team, I can say that on grass, we were a great side. But slowly, with the advent of Astro-turf and other upgrades, we lost the momentum and our rankings went into double digits. That was tough for the players, the administration and the fans who loved the game.

India wins Olympic hockey bronze: Graham Reid and Manpreet Singh on historic win

But I am glad that over the last few years, Hockey India kept faith in the players and worked on a long-term basis and that is evident with a rise in the international rankings. I know going forward, it will be tough to maintain rankings, but this victory gives us hope.

I think the boys should play confidently, pick up new skills and increase their fitness levels and chase their dreams. They have made us proud in Tokyo and we must back them going forward!

(As told Shayan Acharya)

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