Janneke Schopman (43) had just started as an assistant national coach in India when the corona broke out and the Asian country was locked up. The lockdown was fierce, but it also brought something good. The women’s team was named Women of the Year for a charity and stepped out of the shadow of the men’s team.
The players were already on their way home that day in March, when the bus turned around. Instead of going back to their families for a few weeks, they suddenly had to stay on campus in Bangalore, a sort of Papendal of India. The lockdown was declared.
‘We were not allowed to train, we were not allowed to come together in large groups, we were not even allowed to leave the field,’ says Schopman. For several months the campus was like a prison. Guards did not let anyone in or out. Players stayed in their room most of the time. Schopman killed time by analyzing images of opponents in her small apartment on campus.
No meat was available during the lockdown
Before the former defender of Orange and Den Bosch, among others, was appointed as assistant to national coach Sjoerd Marijne in January, Schopman worked in the United States for five years. First as an assistant and from 2017 as the person with final responsibility. In America, and in the Netherlands, the 212-fold international luxury was used. In India it suddenly happened that sometimes brown water came out of her shower.
Locked up on campus, Schopman became acquainted with the country, where she was not yet long after a training internship to New Zealand. While in Dutch supermarkets, toilet rolls in particular were thrown into the grocery cart en masse, in India the supply of food got stuck. ‘Many products were not available. I haven’t eaten meat for a month or two. Or yogurt. Fortunately we did have eggs. And boiled vegetables. But at some point you get tired of that too. The chef did his very best, but what he presented to us was a fairly monotonous menu. ‘
Former assistant Chris Ciriello, former Australian international, came up with an idea. He knew exactly how to stack bricks so that it became a pizza oven. ‘It still stands. Yes, haha, baking pizza has become an art for us. ‘
Normally, Schopman had flown back to her home in the United States at the time before the next block of preparation for the Olympic Games in Tokyo would begin. Now the main task of the coaching staff was suddenly no longer hockey-related, but creating the safest possible environment for the team.
‘Of all the periods in this corona crisis, that first phase has been the most complicated for us as the team. For those girls it was very intense. They had not seen their family in a long time and were going back home, but then corona broke out. But they got through it. I think it’s fantastic what they have done with their time.
Collect money through social media
The group of players soon came up with the idea to collect money through a crowdfunding campaign for the poorest victims of the lockdown. ‘There were people who were out of work from one day to the next. That was heartbreaking to watch. Many of the girls on the team come from poor families themselves. They sympathized very much with them and felt that they should take action. ‘
For seventeen days, the players posted a new challenge every day on social media. Schopman himself also participated. One day she tried to hold on to plank for as long as possible. The other day she had to jump rope five hundred times.
Participants were asked to donate 100 rupees, slightly more than one euro. For poor families in India, this is quite a considerable amount, but not too high to avoid coughing it up. ‘The idea was that everyone could participate. So not only the rich, but also the poor. Some donated enormous amounts, others exactly 100 rupees. They didn’t have more money. I think it’s special that the team has also reached them.
‘They have become role models’
Under the hashtags # Give100ForCOVID and # TakeChallengeGive100, the campaign became known nationwide. The players of India, much less popular than their male colleagues, eventually collected tens of thousands of euros, but achieved much more than that. They finally got a face for the general public. The lockdown disappeared, but the reputation remained. The team was named Women of the Year in India by Vogue magazine and featured on the cover.
Schopman: ‘They have become role models. Not only for young girls who want to play hockey, but also for women in India in general. In that respect, Covid has produced something good after all. ‘