Janneke Schopman’s Exit of her Own Making

Janneke Schopman. Source: FIH Media

Hockey India is known for sacking coaches. If you go through the list of names jettisoned, the hall of shame is shocking. Terry Walsh, Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Roelant Oltmans and Harendra Singh were all booted out, unceremoniously.

The lone exception was Sjoerd Marijne, the Dutchman who read the writing on the wall after the Tokyo Olympics. Marijne, famous for guiding Rani Rampal’s side to a fourth-place finish at the Games three years ago, left the team in tears. He decided to say adios after the team returned from Japan.

To say that Marijne was emotional would be stating the obvious, for he had treated the girls like his own family members. The girls cried, before Janneke Schopman, who had been assistant to Marijne, took over. Having been with the women’s team for over six years, she knew how the Indian sporting system worked.

Yet, towards the end of 2023, RevSportz reported that Schopman was being bullied and taunted by some Hockey India officials. She faced issues before the Asian Games in Hangzhou. The Indian women’s team’s failure to win a gold medal and make the cut for the 2024 Paris Olympics was seen as a calamity. The coach put up with it, quietly.

Also Read: Decoding the Indian women’s hockey disaster in Ranchi

Then came the Asian Champions Trophy in Ranchi, which India won in November 2023. Sadly, the make-or-break event for India was the Olympic qualifiers, again in Ranchi in January 2024, where the team lost the most important match to Japan. Schopman came under pressure. Again.

She knew her card was marked. But where she erred was in blaming the Indian sporting system and bias in her select interviews. Frankly speaking, her interview was more than harsh, because India treated her well and paid her a good salary. Once that interview made the headlines, her days were numbered.

On Friday, when the coach resigned, Dilip Tirkey, the Hockey India president, had no option but to accept it. One more coach gone, though, this time, the downfall was of her own creation. Working in the Indian sports system requires the skills of a trapeze artist and coolness of a F1 driver. Sadly, Schopman could have handled her own exit better.

Yes, the girls in the team will shed tears, for she had been like a member of the family. To go through such a crisis is sad, for girls like Savita Punia, Salima Tete and Vandana Katariya, who are still hopeful of serving Indian hockey.
Yes, there is a silence in the corridors of power in Indian hockey, where Bholanath Singh, the secretary, is guilty of having treated the women’s team improperly in the past. These girls come from modest backgrounds and have given their blood, sweat and tears while donning the India colours.

The Paris dreams are over. That does not mean the Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports will not support the women’s team. Yes, the priority is preparation and spending on the Paris Olympics, but the next Asian Games cycle (2026) kicks in so soon after Paris.

The women will get a new coach, hopefully a good one. If Schopman failed, so has Bholanath. After all, he had baited her, requiring Tirkey to be the calming influence.

Tirkey now needs to ensure that there is a smooth transition, for the next coach, man or woman, will be aware how the system works. Whether it will be a foreign coach or an Indian next, there is zero clarity. This time around, the SAI would do well to get a coach who is screened properly.

Schopman failed to deliver. But her bigger failure was lack of diplomacy when she was leaving. Were the interviews she gave to sections of the media necessary? They boomeranged, and left her with no supporters.

The Indian team’s girls feel orphaned. Please handle them with care. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accords top priority to the “betis” of the country. Success and failure are part of the game. Indian women’s hockey needs another Chak De moment. And it will happen.

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