16/04/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Crowdfunding Saves The Day For Struggling Indian Ice Hockey Team

Ice Hockey Association of India

No other song has perhaps evoked feelings of such patriotism and love for the country in recent times as "Chak De... Oh Chak De India!"

Every time it plays in any stadium (whatever the game being played), the crowd goes delirious.

But while the song has become a sports anthem, problems which the director tried to highlight in the movie -- shortage of funds, lack of a proper infrastructure and government apathy towards lesser known games -- remain unaddressed.

While you read this and the IPL frenzy is at its peak, the Indian ice hockey team (how many of us even know we had one?) has been doggedly fighting the odds to ensure participation in the International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup to be held in Kuwait from April 18-24.

Ice hockey in India

Ice hockey was first introduced in India by the British in the hill town of Shimla nearly a century ago. The revival of the sport here can be traced back to 1975 when the Ladakh Scouts unit of the Indian Army started playing it with wooden sticks and flattened stones used as pucks. Since then, the game has gone on to become popular in parts of the country that get snowfall --Shimla, Uttarakhand, Ladakh and other higher reaches of Kashmir.

It was registered as a national sport in India in 2002 and the number of registered players in the country has gone up from 300 at that time to 2000 at present.

However, a look beneath the surface reveals the sorry state of the game as well as its players. To begin with, there are no rinks in the country where the national team can practice properly.

The government of Uttarakhand did construct an international sized rink in Dehradun, but it has been shut since 2012. "It's because of a lack of commitment," says Akshay Kumar, director of the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI).

The only practice that they do get is during the winter months. The rink in Gurgaon where the team practices currently is about a third the size of an international rink.


Harijinder Singh Jindi, general secretary of the IHAI, expressed his distress at the fact that the Sports Ministry supports only those teams which qualify for the Winter Olympics or Winter Asian Games. "How do they expect us to do that with just two or three months of practice?" he asks.

Perpetually short of cash and with a scarcity of sponsors, players often have to buy their own equipment. It isn't cheap.

" The only support which IHAI gets from our own government is a paltry Rs 1 lakh a year, that too for conducting National Championships and not for the development of the game. "

"My equipment costs almost Rs 70,000," says Tsewang Gyaltson, captain of the Indian team. He has travelled to Thailand and Kyrgyzstan to represent India but the only money he has earned through this game is by winning local tournaments held in Ladakh. His family want him to quit the game because they see no "future" in it for him.

The only support which IHAI gets from our own government is a paltry Rs 1 lakh a year, that too for conducting National Championships and not for the development of the game.


The international sports community has been more helpful. The International Ice Hockey Federation has sent senior coaches to India to train local coaches, and has also initiated an equipment support programme for kids. The Ice Hockey Federation from the USA also helps spot and hone talent.

In addition, the Canadian Embassy donates equipment to local clubs in Ladakh every year. The embassy's own ice hockey team, who sometimes play in Ladakh, have also helped sponsor the team at times.

Besides that, the team has Adam Sherlip to bank upon. New York-based Sherlip is the first coach of the Indian team and has been associated with them for the last six years. He travels to India, for the most part, on his own expense.


Crowdfunding to the rescue

The 25-member squad needs Rs 20 lakh ($40,530) to compete in the upcoming tournament in Kuwait. With no sign of funding, the team took to social media last week for help. It's disgraceful that a national team had to do so simply represent the country.

Vedank Singh, the digital marketing head of the Ice Hockey Association of India, launched the crowdfunding campaign on using the Twitter hashtag #SupportIceHockey. Vedank, who tweets with the handle @bhaiyyajispeaks, suggested appealing to the people for funds when the entire trip seemed to be in jeopardy.

In one of its tweets, the IHAI said, "We have a national team and are begging for money... Please support our ice hockey team travelling to Kuwait. We need to raise funds for the team. A 20k donation will cover costs for 1 player."

" With no sign of funding, the team took to social media last week for help. It's disgraceful that a national team had to do so simply represent the country. "

The IHAI also tied up with a crowdfunding website BitGiving which encouraged all supporters to come forward and donate amounts from Rs 50 to Rs 10,000.

The Twitter campaign, which was seen trending over the micro blogging site last week, caught the attention of Anand Mahindra, the head of the $16.5-billion conglomerate Mahindra Group. He was one of the first to respond by directly tweeting to the IHAI and pledging "support to these passionate athletes." His contribution, Rs 5 lakh, has already been handed over to the IHAI.

Others who stepped forward to help the beleaguered team include South India Shelters (2 lakh), a real estate development company based in Chennai, and Royal Valtrans Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based hospitality services company (Rs 7 lakh).

The only sportsperson to support the cause has been cricketing icon Gautam Gambhir, who contributed Rs 4 lakh.

In just a few days, the team managed to raise Rs 12 lakh, the bare minimum required to ensure participation in the upcoming tournament. IHAI director Akshay Kumar is a relieved man, although the team could do with some more in its bank account. "The players also need funds to buy new equipment since they have been using the same sticks, gloves and pads for the past five or six years," he says. If the funds exceed what is required for the tournament and equipment it will go towards development camps. "Development camps will be organised in Kargil, Ladakh, Shimla, Delhi and Mumbai during the winters. Besides, we can also think of sending Indian coaches to Finland and Malaysia for training."

Bolstered by the public support, the IHAI is now daring to broaden their ambitions. "We want to widen our player base and create infrastructure which will operate round the year. If there is one thing we would like to ask of our government, it is infrastructure in the form of ice rinks across India to help the sport grow. The rest will happen on its own," Kumar adds.

"'The government tells us win us a medal, then we will give you funds. It's a chicken and egg situation.'"

The present problem has been solved but it doesn't detract from the sad fact that the country splurges on cricket while all other games languish.

"The ice hockey team has been playing in international tournaments since 2009. But it has always been a stretch. We have always paid out of our pockets to keep the team going, but it cannot be done on a sustained basis," Kumar says."The government tells us 'win us a medal, then we will give you funds'. It's a chicken and egg situation."

We require strong political will, generous corporate sponsors and, above all, loyal fan bases for games other than cricket.

As the Indian Ice Hockey team prepares for the Kuwait trip with the love and support of well wishers across the country, we wish them all the best!

Images have been provided by Ice Hockey Association of India.

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