The untold story of a former Olympian, legend who live and breathe hockey -Sujit Kumar

Sujit Kumar is a hockey legend, former Olympian who competed in the men's tournament at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

There are many talented and top-notch sports persons in our nation who brings a medal home. Many of them have faded far away from the limelight, with no recognition, accolades or credit either because of politics or media negligence.
But the fact is that there are some names, which folks don’t even knows or many don’t remember, and unfortunately, after when many years pass, such inspirational stories remains untold.
In a Cricket crazy country, we often talk about other sports and fan following but as a matter of fact do we actually follow them as well. And so, is the reason that hockey is hardly followed in India.

Meet Sujit Kumar, who hails from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh is a former Indian field hockey player, an Olympian who competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Moreover, he played more than 240 International hockey matches.
Born in 1962, Sujit is among one of those rare hockey legends who have served the Indian hockey men’s national team as Coach. He has travelled to more than 15 Countries worldwide along with Indians men’s hockey team as a vital member. He played his very first international, where he represented India for Europe tour for nine countries championship and won Gold medal beating Poland in the finals held at Italy in 1981. He led the team India qualifying for the junior hockey World Cup and helped win silver medal at Hong Kong in 1981.

Consequently, he represented India in the Junior hockey World Cup at Malaysia in 1982. Since than Sujit had never looked back and represented India proudly in most of the major prominent events like BMW Trophy and Indira Gandhi hockey tournament, Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament and several other international tournaments in his illustrious career spanning over a decade as Indian hockey player.

Sujit Kumar along with senior Indian Airlines hockey team

Indian Airlines back in the 1980s used to recruit only those players who already made their names in the International arena and Sujit was one among those few names who had a consistent, sustained and laborious career with team Air India.

He had served Indian airlines as a hockey player for almost more then thirteen years long from 1983 to 1996 in his career so far.
He represented the Indian hockey team along with legends the likes of Dhanraj Pillay, Jagbir Singh, Pargat Singh, Mohinder Pal, Ashok Kumar(son of legend, Dhyan Chand).
Sujit was the Vice-captain of senior Indian team who qualified for hockey World Cup by clinching bronze medal in 1989 at New Jersey. Later on he went on to play senior hockey World Cup as Vice-captain in Pakistan in 1990 as from 1989-90, he was allocated as Vice Captain of the senior Indian hockey team.

He was also the part of silver medal winning senior Indian hockey team at Asia Cup tournament in Delhi.
Sujit was the team India Captain in Indo-USSR tour in 1984, right after which he was about to play his dream Olympics.
“I could’ve played 1984 Olympic. In 1983, I was in the camp for nine months preparing for the trip of New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. Just a week before the departure, I was declared medically unfit and removed from the team. Nevertheless, I continued my passion and played hockey for long,” 58-year-old, Sujit Kumar told Prag News.

Then the times come when he went with the Indian men’s national hockey team as coach in 2001 for the Africa tour. Sujit has also been conferred with the Laxman Award for his meritorious performances while representing the State in 2016.

Sujit Kumar posing with hockey stick

Discussing his laborious hockey career as athlete and coach, Sujit Kumar caught up in an exclusive interview with Vishal Sharma where he shared his struggles and opinion on current Indian team scenario.

Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview:

Vishal Sharma: Tell us about your journey as an athlete and then as hockey coach so far?

Sujit Kumar: I belong to a family of hockey players. 7 of my uncles played hockey besides both my brothers and cousins. My uncle was a probable for the Montreal Olympic hockey camp and both my brothers were National players. My elder brother and myself played for Uttar Pradesh and my younger brother played for Mumbai. In the year 1975 I was selected for Sports Hostel Meerut. I got the opportunity to play for Uttar Pradesh at an early age because of hard work and excellent coaching. My hockey journey started in 1978 when I was in class 10.

I played all India schools games thrice and won 2 gold medals and one silver medal and won 3 National Junior Championships. In 1979, I played Senior National hockey at Jalandhar. In the same year Sports hostel Lucknow played in the prestigious Aga Khan Gold cup Mumbai, from this tournament I came in the limelight. In 1981, I was in the Junior Indian hockey team camp in Lucknow at the age of 17 years. Senior Indian hockey team was announced at the camp in Patiala, in which my name was included for the Europe tour and Indo Pak series.

Vishal Sharma: For how many years you have played for team India, and Airlines and for how long you have been the coach in your career of a decade?

Sujit: I played for India from 1981 to 1990, I played for India. After, the 1990 World Cup I took retirement from International hockey at the age of 27. Even after playing for 10 years for my country I didn’t get Arjuna award and also Dhyan Chand award. I joined Indian Airlines in 1983 and played for Indian Airlines hockey team which was regarded as the best team of India, I played with this team till 1996 and won all the prestigious tournaments of India. In Lucknow, we are running K D Singh Babu Hockey Society.

We have 80 underprivileged, under 14 age group hockey players. After 1996, I started coaching them hockey. In 1999, I was the hockey coach of Indian Airlines hockey team, we won several tournaments of the country. In 2000, I was the coach of Indian team for the Africa tour. After this, again I started coaching for the K D Singh Babu Hockey Society players. 2017, I was transferred to Jaipur as Air India station head. There I was the coach of Hockey Academy of Rajasthan up to 2019, we won all the tournaments of Rajasthan. Then I came back to Lucknow and again started coaching to our K D Singh Babu Hockey Society players.

Sujit Kumar with the junior Indian hockey team during World Cup qualification, Hong Kong in 1981

Vishal Sharma: Being an Olympian, how do you look at present scenario of Indian men’s field Hockey team?

Sujit: Being a Hockey Olympian my opinion is that the current Indian Hockey team is capable to beat any team in the world, if they overcome the mistake that they had made in the last major International tournaments of not being able to mark the opponent forward line, resulting in a goal in the last minute.

The team captain Manpreet Singh an experienced player, should have used S V Sunil and Akashdeep Singh maximum to support forward line. Most of the forward line players are capable of scoring goals. In the present scenario, the Indian team has good penalty corner expert like Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh. Our Indian hockey team should make maximum penalty corners.

Vishal Sharma: Due to COVID-19, how are you battling with your daily task and professional life?

Sujit: After the spread of Covid-19, I have started doing my fitness workouts on my home terrace daily, instead of going to the stadium. I have stopped giving coaching to the hockey players since the day covid-19 spread in my city. I have instructed them to do individual practice and some exercises at home. Whenever, required I advise them on phone. During the Covid pandemic we supported the players by giving them necessary food items. As for myself, I have been exercising at home on the terrace.

Vishal Sharma: Are you currently involved in any sports ventures like a Consultant/Advisor or Coach? Do you have any such opportunities knocked at your door?

Sujit: As per FIH guidelines those who qualify for FIH hockey coaching course can be eligible as a coach for the Indian hockey team. I could not do this FIH coaching course due to my tight official responsibilities, but I am coaching the players of K.D Singh Babu Hockey Society. I was the coach of Indian Airlines Hockey team which was one of the best teams in India. I was also the coach of the Indian Hockey team for Africa tour. Recently, I was the coach of Rajasthan Hockey Academy for 3 years. At present, I don’t have any coaching assignment but if I’m offered to become the coach I will accept the offer because hockey and coaching are my passion.

Vishal Sharma: Do you have any favourite player from the present Indian hockey team, if so then why? Your opinion?

Sujit: My favourite player is goalkeeper Sreejesh. The Indian Hockey team has won several times because of his performance. If the goalkeeper is good then any team can play without fear of losing. The team knows that if we cannot score a goal, our goalkeeper is always there to save us from losing.

Vishal Sharma: What sort of struggles did you faced that time in your Sporting journey? How do you overcome the situations?

Sujit: No one can achieve his goal without hard work and a lot of struggles, I’m one of them. I was selected in the Indian Hockey Team at the age of 17 which was very early, as I was an excellent player. I could’ve played 1984 Olympic. In 1983, I was in the camp for 9 months preparing for the trip of New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. Just a week before the departure, I was declared medically unfit and removed from the team. I had thought of giving up hockey because of this unfair means, but then my father made me understand and so I continued playing hockey.

Vishal Sharma: Thank you Mr Sujit for giving us your valuable time and allowing us to share your inspirational illustrious journey.

Since, past 25-years Sujit Kumar is associated with K.D Singh Babu Hockey Society to train and nurture junior hockey players and he produced so many players at State and National level. Till date, he is providing coaching and also orgainised under-14 hockey tournament for last 25 years to promote grass root level hockey players. Sujit is one among those who believe “Never let success get to your head, never let failure get to your heart”. We are proud of him for his notable work he does from long period and wish him best to do more.

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