Meet Sjoerd Marijne: The Dutchman behind India’s women’s hockey renaissance
For Indian women’s hockey, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been a huge turning point.
Since finishing fourth in their debut Summer Games in Moscow 1980, the Indian women’s hockey team was largely relegated to the background on the world stage.
While there have been periodic successes in Asian and Commonwealth tournaments, Indian eves traditionally struggled in big-ticket global events like the Olympics and FIH Hockey World League.
In 2016, the team seemed to have turned a corner after securing qualification to the Rio 2016 – their first Summer Games appearance after a 36-year-wait. The campaign, however, was short with India failing to make it past the group stages.
At Tokyo, though, the Indian eves punched above their weight and didn’t only get past the group phase but surprised heavyweights Australia en route to a historic semi-final match against world No. 2 Argentina.
Needless to say, the team has grown leaps and bounds since its Rio campaign and Sjoerd Marijne – the chief coach of the Indian women’s national hockey team -- has played a massive role.
Who is Sjoerd Marijne?
Born April 20, 1974, in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch located in the Dutch province of North Brabant, Sjoerd Marijne took up hockey from a young age and went on to represent his local club HC Den Bosch.
Den Bosch is one of the leading clubs in the Hoofdklasse – the Netherlands’ national club hockey league. During his decade-long playing career, Marijne won the national championship twice - in 1998 and 2001. He was also part of the Den Bosch squad which won the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup in 1999.
After ending his playing career, Sjoerd Marijne took up coaching. He coached several Dutch clubs, including TMHC Tilburg, Amsterdam H & BC, a team he guided to the final in the national championship twice. Marijne also had a brief stint with Den Bosch.
In 2013, the Dutch coach moved onto the international stage.
Across various assignments with the Netherlands junior teams, Sjoerd Marijne helped guide the Under-21 women’s team to the junior World Cup title and the men’s Under-21 team finish third at a junior World Cup.
Sjoerd Marijne was given charge of the senior Netherlands women’s team in 2014 and the Dutchman repaid the trust by guiding the team to the Hockey World League Semi-Final gold medal in 2015.
Sjoerd Marijne was appointed coach of the Indian women’s national team in February 2017.
Tasked to build the team up for Tokyo 2020, Sjoerd Marijne had a decent start to his coaching career in India, helping the Indian women qualify for the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in 2017. In the Semi-Finals, though, India could only finish eighth.
Before he could settle in, however, Sjoerd Marijne was shifted to coach the Indian men’s senior team after Hockey India sacked Roelant Oltmans – Marijne’s fellow countryman.
Marijne hit the ground running, winning the Asia Cup 2017 gold. However, a disappointing 2018 Commonwealth Games campaign, where the Indian men’s team finished fourth, saw the Dutchman return to his women’s team role while Harendra Singh took charge of the men’s team.
Despite the coaching merry-go-round, Marijne dedicated himself to his primary goal – developing the women’s team for Tokyo.
Under his stewardship, the Indian women finished with silver medals at the 2018 Women's Asian Champions Trophy and the Asian Games in Jakarta.
In 2019, under the Dutchman’s guidance, the Indian women qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after beating the USA 6-5 over two legs at the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
During the COVID pandemic which brought the world to a standstill and moved Tokyo 2020 back by a year, the Indian coach’s dedication towards his team came to the fore.
Despite initially having planned to travel back to the Netherlands to be with his wife and daughters, Sjoerd Marijne returned from the airport to stay with his team, who were stuck in Bengaluru in a bio bubble. He was afraid he may not have been able to return to India to prepare the team optimally for the Olympics.
While very few backed the Indian women’s team to go far at the Tokyo Olympics, Sjoerd Marijne’s girls proved their doubters wrong emphatically at Tokyo.
After losing their first three group matches at Tokyo 2020, India rallied to win the last two and squeezed into the knockouts – a testament to the mental strength Marijne has been able to inculcate in his side.
A victory over three-time Olympic champions Australia in the quarter-finals followed. Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan urged Sjoerd Marijne to bring back gold from Tokyo after the historic win, making the Dutchman a hot topic of discussion on social media.
Shah Rukh Khan starred in Chak de! India, playing the role of the coach of the Indian women’s hockey team.
A heart-breaking 2-1 loss to Argentina may have ended India’s hopes but the prospect of a bronze is still open for Sjoerd Marijne and Co.