Sukhi Panesar is a star in Canadian field hockey circles. The 30-year-old midfielder of Indian descent has done his country proud. He was instrumental in seeing Canada earn a silver medal in the Pan American Games (2015), and then the most important thing—qualification for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. What’s more interesting is that his brother, Balraj, also represented Canada at the Olympics, making them a rare brother duo to represent a country in the same sport.
Sukhbal Panesar has Indian blood and roots; his father, Balbir Singh Panesar, hails from Ludhiana and was an avid hockey player cum enthusiast. In fact, Balbir used to play at the district level and was aspiring to be a national-level player. But business caught up, and he was keen on setting up his business in Canada.
Even though Balbir Singh settled down in Canada, he did not lose his focus, which had now shifted to making his three sons hockey players. Not just mere players, but that they should be so good as to represent their country at the highest level. He dreamt that his sons Sukhi, Balraj, and Manavjeet would represent Canada in the Olympics.
“From a young age, me and my brothers should work harder and harder towards one goal—to represent Canada in the major international tournaments. This included the Olympics, which my father was very particular about. For him, the Olympics were the biggest event in a sportsman’s life,” said Sukhi.
Sukhi and his brothers’ early life in Surrey (British Columbia) was restricted mostly to playing hockey and studying. Balbir was a strict disciplinarian—he was very clear about one thing: his sons should make him proud by representing Canada at the international level and even at the Olympics.
Slowly but surely, Balbir’s passion percolated down to his sons, who, by the age of ten, had made it their mission to excel at hockey.
“We were very sure that we would be playing hockey. Though we were only 10 years old, of course we didn’t know which level, but we were quite sure about a career as hockey players,” he said.
Interestingly, it was Sukhi’s elder brother Balraj who showed the early promise and potential. Such was his talent that he was the talk of the town and was touted as the next big
In a way, I feel that my love and drive for the game increased after the success Balraj managed to achieve. I can tell you there was healthy competition in the family after Balraj managed to break through into the Canada junior team,” said Sukhi.
Sukhi also revealed that he had started to work much harder after Balraj had broken the ice. “I was ready and also underwent much greater hardships ever since Balraj made his way into the Canadian junior team. It was as if there was new-found competition and rivalry in our family,” opined Sukhi.
It was only a matter of time before Sukhi too made the break into the Canada junior team. That was an event of sorts for the Panesar family, as proud father Sukhbir was super proud of his boys’ good showing.
But the ever-pushy and unrelenting father that he was, Sukhbir kept on pushing and prodding both Sukhi and Balbir to attain greater success and heights.
The Panesar siblings—Balraj and Sukhi—then kept improving by leaps and bounds, and soon they were good enough to cement their spots in the senior Canada team. That was when Sukhi said that the brothers had justified their father’s faith in them. | ”After we got selected for the Canadian senior team, we were finally able to breathe easily as we knew that we had more than half fulfilled our father’s wish,” said Sukhi.
But there was a part of their father’s wish that had not yet been fulfilled. That was to see that the boys played for Canada in a major event like the World Cup or Olympics.
It was Sukhi who first brought the glass ceiling down when he represented Canada in the junior World Cup hockey tournament in New Delhi in 2013. ‘That was an unforgettable experience. To come back to India and play in the junior World Cup was an experience that will be etched in my memory for a long time,” he said.
His father was so happy that he wanted to travel to India in order to see his son in action. But due to some last-minute changes in schedule, he could not come to see his son in action.
Thereafter, Sukhi’s performances went from strength to strength as he went on to represent Canada in the 2015 Pan American Games. It was in this tournament that he excelled and scored a host of goals, which saw Canada bag the silver medal. This also allowed the Canadians to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Sukhi did play in Rio but didn’t do anything exceptional.
It was at the 2020 Olympics (deferred and held in 2021 in Tokyo) that Sukhi and Balraj’s performances hit the pinnacle. Both brothers were shortlisted for Canada’s team, making them only one of the three pairs of siblings ever to represent their country in the Olympics. “Our father was overjoyed that we had made his dream come true.
Balbir’s happiness was, however, shortlived when a freak injury in practice ruled Balraj out of the Olympics. Thereafter, it was left to Sukhi to salvage pride for his family. He rose to the occasion and gave a very good account of himself as Canada finished in ‘creditable’ sixth place.
Sukhi’s will now root for his brother Balraj to represent Canada in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Once I played in the Olympics, which was my father’s avid dream, I decided to move on from the game into a different field altogether. I am now supporting Baljraj, who is aspiring to play for Canada at the 2024 Paris Olympics. I want him to play a stellar role for Canada,” he signs off.