Sunday, Oct 01, 2023

Yes, Women Should Get Equal Pay, Says Nations Cup Hockey Star Gurjit Kaur

Yes, Women Should Get Equal Pay, Says Nations Cup Hockey Star Gurjit Kaur

The goalscorer in the final speaks about gender, the future of Indian women’s hockey and why Indian girls should be free to choose the life they want.

We had a common goal and we achieved it, says Gurjit while speaking about Nations Cup final.
We had a common goal and we achieved it, says Gurjit while speaking about Nations Cup final. Twitter/@gurjit02

The Saviour of Valencia was once a little girl in the Punjab village of Miadi Kalan, near Amritsar. Gurjit Kaur would sit on her father Satnam Singh’s bicycle, and they would ride to her school nearly 15km away. (More Hockey News)

Soon she started playing hockey. Neighbours and relatives made the usual sexist comments about “a girl wearing short clothes and playing with boys”.

Today, Gurjit, 27, is a pillar of the Indian team. On December 17, in the final of the FIH Nations Cup against Spain in Valencia, her scooped penalty corner to the left of the goalkeeper took India to an important victory. 

It’s the men’s World Cup that is coming up in January, but the women have an important year ahead too, with the Pro League and the Asian Games. Besides, hockey is one of the few sports in India in which the women’s team has nearly as strong an identity as the men’s. 

Edited excerpts from a phone chat with Gurjit. 

You scored the winner again Spain early in the match and then stood strong in the defence to ensure victory for India. What aspects of that day’s play stand out for you now? 

I’m happy with my performance, but the whole team contributed to it. We had a common goal and we achieved it. The ultimate satisfaction is in that. Team ki khushi, meri khushi (the team’s joy is my joy).

How do you pick a spot when hitting a penalty corner? By any chance, do you take clues from football penalties, of which we saw many at the Qatar World Cup?

Once again, a penalty corner is a team effort. Many components and players work together to get the ball in the hitting zone. 

I practice them a lot, to begin with. And I try to score early because then a lot of pressure gets released. 

In terms of preparation, we watch the opponent’s videos, so we get an idea about what the goalkeeper’s tendencies are. A strategy is chalked out with the coach before the match. But at times, you have to use your own instinct, especially on re-PCs (retaken penalty corners). 

I didn’t watch that much of the football World Cup due to our matches. I did see some of the penalties. The takeaway always is that it’s important to keep a calm mind, not overthink. It’s fine if a shot is saved, but you have to be relaxed and decisive. 

India’s win ensured qualification for the 2023-24 Pro League, a tournament we missed this season. What would be the team’s target in the league this year considering that the Asian Games will be held this year too?

The Pro League will give us a chance to play matches against quality opposition before the Asian Games (depending upon dates). We will know where we stand, and where we need to improve. The target is to make the most of the opportunity. 

Indian women’s hockey didn’t get its due for a long time. But after the team finished a creditable fourth at the Tokyo Olympics and has been playing consistently, do you think things have changed for women players?

It’s certainly better than before. I feel the team’s performances can motivate the youth and help them go higher in life. 

What is your message to the girl child, and likewise, for those with a male-dominated worldview?

Girls should be allowed to pursue whatever they want, whether it is sports, studies or any other vocation. Parents have a big role here. I too faced the usual taunts when I played, but my parents supported me. If they hadn’t given me freedom and support, I wouldn’t be here. 

How different is the coaching philosophy of Janneke Schopman to Sjoerd Marijne, who was the team’s coach for a long time? And does having a woman coach make any specific difference?

I think every coach is different. Our current coach is good-natured and skilled at dealing with players. Her being a woman perhaps helps to some extent, but a coach is a coach. 

There is a demand for equal pay for women in different sports and fields. What are your views?

Certainly, we must get equal pay. We work as hard as the men. Besides, as more people agree now, boys and girls are the same in all respects except the physical.


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