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‘Whatever happened to me in the last two years wasn’t right’

Former India skipper Rani Rampal doesn’t know why she is being kept out of the senior national team

In a bid to strengthen the grassroots structure of the sport in India, Hockey India (HI) following its Executive Board (EB) meeting on Thursday announced that for the first time, they will be forming national sub-junior teams that will have national camps and get exposure tours just like the junior and senior sides. In addition, former India skippers Sardar Singh and Rani Rampal will coach the new men’s and women’s outfits.

However, the announcement opened a Pandora’s box which has been under wraps for quite a while.

Rani, who guided the women’s team to an unprecedented fourth-place finish at the Olympics two years back, has been out of the team since Tokyo, playing only five matches since then and not a single one since January. While the 28-year-old was initially out due to a hamstring issue, doubts about why she was not on the team began rising last year.

A veteran of 254 internationals, Rani travelled to Europe in June 2022 to play her first match since Tokyo 2020. She was dropped after playing only one match and had to wait another seven months to play four games on the tour of South Africa in January.

Taking up the role of a coach raised one question: Is Rani retiring and taking up coaching?

But the former India skipper, who helped India qualify for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years in Rio 2016, clearly said she is not hanging up her boots yet.

“I knew this question was going to come up. I was prepared for it. Everyone has a right to know. Whatever happened to me in the last two years wasn’t right. After the Olympics, I returned from an injury and was the top scorer at National Games but wasn’t picked despite giving good performances. The best person who can answer this is the chief coach (Janneke Schopman) or selectors. It is their decision because I have also tried to find out the answer but till date, I don’t know the reason,” said Rani.

“But I am not retiring. I know I still have more to give to the sport as a player. I have the attitude in me to not give up. If I had to, I’d have given up after the Olympics. When I was asked for the coach’s role, I accepted it since it is a short-term programme that can be converted into a long-term project. I love hockey which is why I thought I should do this.”

Questions started arising when Rani was kept out despite performing brilliantly at the National Games in Gujarat in September-October last year, ending up as the top scorer of the tournament. If the National Games is not a benchmark to select India’s best players across sports, then what is? She also scored three goals in four matches on the tour of South Africa, helping India win the Test series 3-0, once again proving that she is good enough for the international level. But there are rumours of a rift in the team.

Asked about the same, HI president Dilip Tirkey said: “We understand what Rani is going through as she isn’t in the team. We have discussed with coaches and selectors why such a big player isn’t included. I too have spoken to Rani who was upset. But you should understand that when a team is selected, the president and secretary general (of HI) don’t interfere (in the selection process). It’s the responsibility of the selectors and the coach. We can’t share the details.”

The same question was also posed to Sardar, who is also a member of the selection committee, to which the 37-year-old responded: “See there are many selectors who go (to meetings) according to their availability. When Rani’s selection came up, I was not present.”

Even though Rani hasn’t retired, this decision could well mean the end of her illustrious international career though she may continue to play at the domestic level.

Meanwhile, Rani and Sardar’s tenures will begin with a 45-day camp on August 21 at the new Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela which will be followed by an exposure trip to Europe where the Indian sub-junior teams will play matches against U-16, U-18 and club teams of Belgium and the Netherlands.

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