On the occasion of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, players of the Indian women’s hockey team Vandana Katariya, Navjot Kaur, and Gurjit Kaur, who were instrumental in the team’s fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics last year, opened up about several important topics in a virtual press conference.

Midfielder Navjot Kaur and Forward Vandana Katariya, in particular, spoke about the upcoming two-legged FIH Pro League tie against Germany on March 12 and 13 but the highlight remained their experiences as women in hockey, the change in perceptions after the Tokyo Olympics and how they feel about the rising popularity of hockey.

“It is fantastic to see over 250 athletes play the game of hockey in Roshnabad (Uttarakhand) and majority of the 250 athletes are girls,” said Katariya.

Meanwhile, Navjot added, “Parents now want their kids to take up sports such as hockey. There has been a change in the mentality of parents as they now think that education can be coupled with sports so that the kids and the future can grow further.”

“All those years ago, I did not imagine that I would be here. I come from a small place Shahabad, Markanda. I didn’t come from a strong family background so they had a few problems such as me wearing shorts, but I had the full support of my parents,” said Navjot.

Navjot also spoke about the injuries that her dreams when she sustained fractures in both her legs before her name was announced for the senior team.

“Because I had to break into the senior team, and even when my name was announced, I was still recovering from the fractures... it was a difficult situation. My family did as much as they could, financially. My nanaji (grandfather) gave me a mixture of herbs to drink to strengthen my bones.”

Katariya also spoke about starting her professional hockey career playing for Meerut because there was no team for the region she comes from - Uttarakhand.

“...I was selected for the Lucknow (Sports Hostel) School. The biggest support for me were my coaches from the Sports Hostel and my father. I always had the support of my family, especially my father. However, people in the neighbourhood, or relatives... I come from a small town in Roshnabad. There wasn’t much exposure for sports there,” Katariya said.

“There used to be one meal made once a day and sometimes, we ended up eating the same thing till dinner. We were three siblings and we used to wear the same pair of shoes to practice.”

“It feels good now after the Olympics now when I go to my hometown. There are a lot of other parents who used to ask my family not to encourage me to play because I was a girl. There were a lot of tough times. I often used to think that we made a mistake just coming into the world. However, my father used to handle all of that and never let it affect us.”

Meanwhile, Defender Gurjit Kaur, spoke about the time she was out of the team for six months in 2016, what kept her going during that period and what the women in the younger generation need to keep in mind when they take up a career in sports.

“I had just gotten a new job. But I felt no joy because I was out of the team. Despite the eight hours in office, I used to still make time to practice because I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything. There was a long way to go. I had to fulfil the dream of my parents,” the drag-flicker said.

“If one has the support from her family, then anything is achievable. We also need to have a positive approach towards every problem we face in our lives. I know it’s easier said than done, but we need to learn how to keep a positive frame of mind in difficult circumstances.

“When I go to my home town, there aren’t any stadiums or grounds to play. A lot of young kids come and ask me about hockey and I feel happy when they give the sport so much love and that girls want to play too. I think, for that they should have the support of their parents and coaches.”