Meet Sonia Bathla, the only Indian woman official named for 2023 Men's Hockey World Cup

Bathla talks about her journey from state team captain to being appointed as the technical officer for the 2023 World Cup

By Samrat Chakraborty

India's Sonia Bathla was named in the reserve panel of hockey officials at Tokyo 2020. But her dream to officiate at the Olympics remained unfulfilled as there were no precautionary substitutions required for the officials at the quadrennial showpiece event.

However, Bathla, has been handed the biggest chance of her career as she was named as one of the four Indian officials for the 2023 Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar.

Bathla has been named as the technical officer by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) while her compatriots Dr. Bibhu Kalyan Nayak (medical officer) and Raghu Prasad, Javed Shaikh (umpires) will serve in other capacities for the mega event. It makes her the only Indian woman official for the event.

"I was in a reserve panel for Tokyo 2020. It was like I nearly missed out on one big event but then the World Cup appointment is quite a compensation for me. But the Olympics will always remain on top," Bathla told Olympics.com.

Sonia Bathla will officiate at 2023 World Cup

Her next assignment, will be at the 2021 Women's Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea for which she will depart later on Wednesday.

"This tournament (2021 Women's Asian Champions Trophy) is important for me because after Covid-19, this is my first international tournament and it will help me learn a lot about the changes that have taken place after the pandemic," Bathla said.

Looking back at her formative years, Bathla believes that she has travelled a long way in her career, from captaining her state team to becoming a national umpire from 2010.

"I started to play hockey from my school days when I was in eighth grade. At that time, Delhi administration had started to send coaches to schools, to build up a team over there. And luckily, within a year or two, I got selected for the match and then it went on," she recalled.

"I graduated from the Delhi University and was also the captain for their team. And then I was the captain for Delhi state also."

She completed her graduation and post-graduation degree but wanted to build a career around her first love hockey. And coaching never turned out to be an option for her as she believes didn't have the required skills.

"At that time, one of my coaches introduced me to the official roles, because I used to object the umpire decisions. She (my coach) dragged me to the organizing committee (office) and told them to give me a chance. And then, I started as a national umpire from 2010," she recalled.

Bathla was also a part of the Hockey India League in its five editions from 2013 to 2017 and was also roped in by the Asian Hockey Federation as a judge in 2015.

"When the Hockey India League started in India, they wanted some female officials to be introduced in that, so I was an umpire during that time. I was a travelling judge and covered all five tournaments," Bathla recalled. "I was about to quit my umpiring journey but all of a sudden the Asian Hockey Federation appointed me as a judge for a tournament. In 2015 I went to China as a judge."

With her impressive progress, Bathla has charted a path for the upcoming generation.

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