New Delhi: Gender discrimination in sports has taken a different form. Joblessness is the “biggest challenge" for the Indian women’s hockey team, captain Rani Rampal said two days after it won the 2017 Women’s Hockey Asia Cup in Japan.

“The biggest challenge continues to be the lack of jobs for players in the team. There are lots of players in the team who don’t have jobs," Rampal in a short interaction with Mint during a visit to HT House in New Delhi on Tuesday. “The men’s team has many options, including jobs in banks, oil companies, etc. The same should be offered to women hockey players. I hope that they can also have a secure future and become financially stable."

Rampal was accompanied by goalkeeper Savita Punia and forward Navjot Kaur.

Rampal has a job with the Sports Authority of India, a top government body for national sports in India.

Most of her teammates are unemployed.

On Sunday, India beat China 5-4 in a spectacular game of hockey to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. This was their first win in 13 years.

“We qualified on merit and that’s a big deal for us. There is new streak of confidence in the team which will hopefully carry forward in the upcoming tournaments. Commonwealth Games is our next big major tournament next year. It’s going to be an important year; we also have the World Cup and Asian Games in 2018," added Rampal, who hails from Haryana. Goalkeeper Punia, who produced a stunning save in a tense shoot-out that led to India’s victory, said this was the target the team had set out for themselves.

“We are very happy. This was our aim, we had set out this target at the onset. We wanted to win gold in the Asia Cup and qualify for the World Cup," she added.

Punia, who was judged Goalkeeper of the Tournament in the Asia Cup, is among Rampal’s unemployed teammates.

The Press Trust of India quoted her as saying on Tuesday, “I have been trying for a job for last nine years. I was promised a job under the Haryana government’s ‘medal lao, naukri pao’ scheme, but I have only been given assurances by officers. I am 27 now and still depend on my father’s income. I am playing for my country for last nine years and every time after a win, I hope to get a job but nothing changes."

This year has been pivotal for Indian women in sports. In June, the Indian women’s cricket team made it to the finals of the ICC World Cup. In September, Olympic silver medallist P.V. Sindhu won the women’s singles title at the Korea Open Super Series. In August, Saina Nehwal won the women’s singles bronze at the World Championship. Rampal said these victories are not just moments of inspiration—women have moved the needle in terms of a change in the mindset.

“There’s definitely a change in the mindset which earlier used to be ladkiyaan kuch nahi kar sakti, unko sports mein nahi dalna chahiye (women can’t do anything, keep them out of sports)," she added.

A state-level men’s hockey player said on condition of anonymity that a top women’s hockey player earns Rs6-8 lakh per year, which is nowhere near what an elite athlete should make. However, sportsmen and women tend to land jobs after wins in international tournaments.

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