By Sushmita Sihwag:
“It is so tough to push sports like Ice Hockey when cricket takes up all sponsor budgets. We have a national team and are begging for money.” This tweet by the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI) justly expresses the pitiful situation of non-cricket (read neglected) sports in our country.
It is so tough to push sports like Ice Hockey when cricket takes up all sponsor budgets. We have a national team and are begging for money.
— Ice Hockey India (@icehockeyindia) March 5, 2015
So, India has a national Ice Hockey team?
And their being cash-strapped and asking netizens for financial assistance should come as no surprise in a country where one sport is put on the pedestal and worshipped while others are not even considered worthy of recognition.
India’s national Ice Hockey team – consisting of army jawans, Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel, and local students – has been participating in international tournaments since 2009 and is coached by Adam Sherlip, former trainer of an American Ice-Hockey club. But the tragedy lies in the fact that the very nation the team represents was not even aware of its presence in all these six years.
The sport was introduced by the British in Shimla in the pre-independence era and was later revived by the Ladakh Scouts – a battalion of the Indian Army. The sport has continued to grow in the region despite the lack of accessibility to ice hockey equipment, which is more readily available in cities like Shimla.
The Online crowdsourcing campaign
The team did not have enough funds to participate in the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup’s Asia Division leg to be held in Kuwait, starting 18th April. The estimated amount required to cover the team’s expenses is 12 Lakh Rupees and the Association had been able to generate only 5 Lakh Rupees by themselves. Troubled with financial woes, the IHAI was forced to go “begging” online in the hope of crowdsourcing their trip on BitGiving, an online social crowdfunding platform.
The crowdfunding campaign was launched by Vedank Singh – the digital marketing head of the IHAI – using the hashtag #SupportIceHockey, which later started trending nationwide. Thousands of Twitterati took notice, including business tycoon Anand Mahindra, head of the Mahindra group, who decided to support the team’s passion with much-needed financial assistance. The efforts of the Association were rewarded with contributions pouring in from all corners and they shall hopefully be successful in their struggle despite the odds stacked against them.
Another problem the Ice Hockey Team faces is unfavourable weather conditions and lack of practicing arena. Currently, the team is training in the skating rink of Ambience Mall in Gurgaon, which is 1/3rd the size of an international rink, as there is little ice in Ladakh post-February.
However, the team would still require more funds to cover the additional expenses of their trip to the tournament. Harjinder Singh, General Secretary of IHAI, said in a statement, “We have already booked the tickets worth Rs 12 lakh and paid the amount using our credit cards. That is the bare-minimum we need in order to reach the tournament venue. The players also need funds to buy new equipment, as they have been using the same sticks, gloves and pads for the past 5-6 years.” But the lack of funding has not extinguished the team’s hope of participating in the tournament and it is adamant on going to Kuwait.
In order to contribute to the team’s funds, please click on this link: https://www.bitgiving.com/project/index/id/BIT166
Has India let non-Cricket sports down?
What movies like Chak De! India and Mary Kom portray on-screen is the real-life situation of non-cricket sports in our country. Along with the government and the sports ministry, we too are somehow guilty of neglecting other sports. Why it is that the national sport of our colonial masters is considered a religion in this country, while the team of our own national sport is often unable to participate in key tournaments due to lack of funding? Why it is that Sachin Tendulkar is conferred with Bharat Ratna, and Indian Hockey legend Dhyan Chand ignored? Such questions and many others are more often than not lost in glamorous, star-powered cricket tournaments and inconclusive panel debates at news channels.
What we as citizens can do is value these sports as much as cricket and support them through whatever means we can, be it via financial contributions or online campaigns, so that the government and potential sponsors are compelled take note and assist them in participating in important tournaments and competitions. How can we expect young and talented sportspersons to make a career in the sport of their choice if it does not provide them with financial security in life?
Deepthi Bopaiah, marketing director at GoSports foundation, aptly summed it up in her statement, “There’s no shortage of talent in India, but there’s also no formal structure for them to get to the top.”