Sandeep Singh: How Punjab's Mithapur Developed Three Field Hockey Olympians

“Every day youngsters come in the morning and evening to play hockey. They exercise in the morning and play hockey in the evening.” 

Sandeep Singh
August 6, 2021 | 4 min. read | Original Reporting 

One of the most interesting things about the Indian men’s Olympic field hockey team, other than medaling after four long decades, is that three of the players hail from the same village in Punjab.

Team captain Manpreet Singh, as well as Mandeep Singh and Varun Kumar, belong to Mithapur of Punjab’s Jalandhar district. 

I headed over to the village to learn what about this place produces world-class field hockey players. 

When I reached Varun Kumar’s home, his father, Bhramanand, was standing outside the house talking to someone over the phone. A truck driver by profession, there was an obvious excitement in his voice. Brahmanand is originally from Himachal but came to Punjab after dropping out of school in class six. He takes pride in his Punjabi identity. 

After completing the call he told me that he has been receiving congratulatory phone calls from people and media personnel.

“Our village Mithapur has a hockey tradition. Our sons used to play hockey in the village. Initially, my older son Tarun used to play hockey. Varun followed in his footsteps.”  

His elder brother Tarun Kumar is a hockey player in the Indian army and he is serving in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Brahmanand claims, honestly, that he used to stop them, or at least try to, but they insisted that they wanted to pursue hockey. 

“I gave them 10 days to make their minds about playing hockey professionally and they said that they have taken the decision to play hockey. Today Varun proved himself right.” 

He used to borrow funds on interest to buy them hockey kits, as money was tight in the home.  

Bhramanand shares that Varun joined the Baba Sewa Singh Hockey Academy, Khadur Sahib, for two years and studied in class sixth and seventh there. Then he joined Surjit Hockey Academy, Jalandhar. 

In fact, two of the three Mithapur’s Olympians received training from the local Sikh hockey academy ran by Baba Sewa Singh Kar Sewa Wale, and managed by Nishan-E-Sikhi Charitable Trust, Khadur Sahib.

Mandeep Singh’s father, Ravinder Singh, said they inherited the game of hockey like how others inherit land.  Ravinder himself was a hockey player and his relatives who are settled in England still play as well.  Mandeep’s elder son also played hockey at the college and university level. Ravinder shares that he expected gold but now they will have to be satisfied with bronze. 

Manjit Kaur, the mother of Indian hockey team captain Manpreet Singh, was the happiest person I spoke to. 

“It was Manpreet’s third Olympic. So we had expected a medal from him. I used to stop him when he was a kid from playing hockey. But his elder brother used to tell me to allow him to play. “ 

Manjit has already organized an Akhand Path and she plans to do it again in the future.

I asked her what is it about Mithapur that developed three successful field hockey Olympians? 

She credited former hockey player, and current Congress MLA, Pargat Singh for the village’s success over multiple Olympic games.

Sarabjeet Sabit, a former hockey player and now a coach said it is their village’s tradition to play hockey. 

“Today it feels like that not only India, but our entire village have also won the Olympic medal. Our entire Punjab has won the Olympic medal.”

He credits Manpreet, Mandeep, and Varun’s work ethic as the reason for their success. 

“Even after returning from hockey camps, they used to come and practice in the village’s hockey stadium.” 

Sabit also believes that the success of Punjab’s youth at the games should dispel many of the negative stereotypes associated with the land. 

“TV channels have shown Udta Punjab. They should also show Khedn Wala Punjab (Sports Playing Punjab).”

I head over to the Mithapur hockey stadium, where nearly 100 youth were training, including running after a ball with their sticks. Children as young as eight helped fill the entire ground. Sabit shares how this is a normal sight in the village. 

“Every day youngsters come in the morning and evening to play hockey. They exercise in the morning and play hockey in the evening.” 

A 10-year-old boy, Diljaan Singh, approaches me to share that he has been playing hockey here since he was six years old. Exemplifying the kind of hockey tradition and culture here that has delivered a medal for India in Tokyo. 

The determination, and the results, of the local youth, should be enough to upgrade the grass grounds to an international-level astroturf stadium, Sabit feels. 

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Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab


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