India’s hockey captain Rani Rampal on Saturday criticised the “shameful” racist abuse of a team member’s family that she said was damaging the country’s quest to boost its sporting image.
New Delhi saw a hockey renaissance at the Tokyo Games with the men taking third place — their first medal in 41 years in a sport where they have won a record eight golds — while the women were narrowly beaten by Great Britain in their bronze medal play-off.
The women’s best ever Olympic performance was tainted by abuse of the family of Vandana Katariya, from the low caste Dalit community that has faced generations of discrimination.
Youths taunted the family at their Uttarakhand state home saying the Dalits in the team were to blame for the defeat. The family has said that threats were made too.
“It’s such a bad thing,” Rampal told reporters.
“We put our life and soul into it, struggle and sacrifice so much to represent our country and when we see what is happening — what happened to Vandana’s family — I just want to say to people please stop this religious division and casteism.”
She added: “We have to rise above this. We come from different religions — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh — and come from all parts of India — north, south and east — but here we work for India.”
The 26-year-old Rampal, whose own father pulled a cart to feed his family, added: “We sweat it out for the Indian flag and it is such a shameful thing when we see that people behave like this.”
She said the team had felt “so much love from people” despite not winning a first medal, but added that lessons had to be learned to end such abuse “if we want make our country a sporting nation”.
“This should never happen to any athlete, or a normal person.”
India’s 200-million Dalits, once known as the “untouchables”, are regular targets of discrimination and often deadly abuse.
Katariya, who scored the first Olympic hat-trick by an Indian woman in a 4-3 victory over South Africa in the league stage, has also said the abuse had tarnished the sporting achievement.