Struggles of Indian Ice Hockey National Team
Harjinder Singh (General Secretary, Ice Hockey Association of India) and Tsewang Gyaltson (National Team Captain) share the achievements as well as the pain for a sport with ALIVE.
India is a country where cricket is regarded as a religion and the players are seen as real heroes. But it's also a place where a ragtag team of 22 men are fighting to put up a superb sport, ice hockey, on the international map.
Ice hockey is a game played between two teams, each usually having six players, who wear skates and compete on ice rink. The object is to propel a vulcanised rubber disk, the puck, past a goal line and into a net guarded by a goaltender, or goalie. Ice hockey is less popular in India but, it has become one of the most popular international sports due to its speed and frequent physical contacts. The game is also an Olympic sport and there are more than a million registered players worldwide performing regularly in leagues.The game is very popular in Canada especially and it is the national game of Canada.
No government funding, no infrastructure, no media coverage. Indian Ice Hockey Team rides on the sheer will of 22 young Indian players from the Himalayan region of India. They contribute their own particular cash, their folk's investment funds, the help of their good wishers, pitiful sponsorships to gladly wear the Indian shirt in the universal fields. And force the world to stand up and take note of India's talents. And climb the ladder of ranking one tournament at a time. The only saving grace in this dismal scenario has been the generosity of spirit of the common India public who has been contributing to crowd funding campaigns to keep the hopes of Indian Ice Hockey Teams alive. When it is mentioned about hockey in India, people seem to be well-aware of it as it’s our national game. But, when it is discussed by about the ‘ice hockey’, most of the masses are not aware that it is played here. Let me aware you about it that we have ice hockey team and it represents India at the international level also.
The history of ice hockey in India is almost 100 years old. The game that time was supposed to be the favourite pass time for the British in Shimla. And still, now the Shimla Ice Skating Club is actively promoting ice sports in the country. In the early 1970s, a battalion of the Indian Army, the Ladakh Scouts took up the game after being posted there. The high Changthang Plateau's frozen streams
and high altitude lakes make the region an ideal place to play ice hockey, and as a result, the game spread amongst the army. The game started gaining more popularity in the regions as more numbers of matches started taking place in the regions.
The Indian national ice hockey team is the national men's ice hockey team of India and it is controlled by the Ice Hockey Association of India and a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation
(IIHF).It is played mostly in the places like Shimla, Ladakh and Kashmir. Achievements
Indian Men’s team debuted in IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in the year
2009 at Abu Dhabi. India has been a regular participant in the Challenge Cup since then and also had the privilege to host the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in the year 2012 at the only International facility in Dehradun. Taking the home advantage, India secured their first International win at Dehradun. In 2016, IIHF Women's Challenge Cup of Asia Division at Chinese Taipei- Ms Noor Jahan got the best Goal Keeper championship award. In 2016 IIHF Men’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division at Kyrgyzstan- Mr Ali Amir got the best Defenseman championship award. The Indian men’s Ice Hockey team finished runners-up in the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup of Asia in Kuwait City. In 2017 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia at Thailand- Asst. Captain Ms Tsewang Chuskit got the most valuable player championship award.
Harjinder Singh, General Secretary, Ice Hockey Association of India talks to ALIVE
What you would like to say about the team's achievements so far?
It always feels glad after every success story of the game. The performance level of the team is increasing year after year and the team had shown their potential of playing a game in any circumstances.
Indian ice hockey is not attracting a large number of people here. What are the reasons actually?
It is not because of any single reason, there are a lot of reasons for this. Ice Hockey has not been able to generate that kind of following as the sport is localised to only a few states in North India, but is a major sport played practically in most of the Villages in Ladakh. They play on the Natural formed Ice rinks. This sport is also not favourite to the Sports Channels in India. Though, the Ice Hockey League (NHL) in North America is the 4th most money grosser and top viewed sport in North America.
Lack of Infrastructure, expensive equipment becomes a deterrent to kids to take up this sport. The Only Indoor International Size Ice rink in India is at Dehradun and it’s lying shut since 2012. In 2015, Mr Sarbananda Sonawal gave assurance to Rajya Sabha that they will help the Uttarakhand Government to recommission the closed Indoor Rink of International standards at Dehradun. But it didn’t work yet.
What are the problems the team is going through?
The first is place for practice. The outdoor rink in Ladhakh region is only available for 2 months in a year and also the rinks are with no dasher boards. Second is practice kits and equipment. There is not even a single retail outlet for the sale of Ice hockey gear in India. Players use donated Ice hockey gears or the have to buy whenever they or their friends or relatives go abroad. The third is the proper diet for players.The financial constraints hamper the sport a lot. Till 2013, players and their families used to contribute towards buying an air tickets to participate in International tournaments. Since 2014, Ice Hockey Association of India has been making efforts to raise funds through crowd funding, Sponsors and varied stake holders of Ice hockey in India use their own personal funds. Crowd funding has not been a success each time and then the Association has to use personal funds of the office bearers to train and send teams abroad.
Presently, what supports the Ice Hockey team is getting from the government?
Government of Jammu & Kashmir has twice given 50% of the air ticket fare to the Women’s team. As the
sport is a subject of state, the Ministry of Sports shows very less interest and all kinds of funds and development is assured by the state. As a National Sports Promotion Organisation, Ice Hockey Association of India being a winter Olympic Sport does not get that kind of support what a summer Olympic Sports or any other sports get as National Sports Federation.
What kind of helps you need from the government?
The Ice Hockey Association of India should be treated at par with other National Sports Federation for annual administration support, funds to conduct national championships and training programs.There should be a proper focus on this winter sport alike all others summer Olympic sports. The Government should provide a proper infrastructure for this sport. The subsidised land should be provided to help the private players who are coming forward by showing their interests in the game. The Government should provide some special quota for admissions to the Ice Hockey players. Also, the facility of job reservation should be provided for the players of Ice Hockey. The customs duty on import of sports gears for Ice Hockey must be scrapped. Gear for Ice Hockey is expensive and additional customs duty makes it more expensive.
Earlier, at the time of IIHF Asia Cup Challenge 2017, donation campaign was started for the team. How much it was beneficial?
We were able to raise sufficient funds through the crowd funding for National Women’s team but were barely able to raise Rs. 2.5 lakhs for Men’s team against the projected expense of Rs. 45 lakhs.
It’s heard that some Bollywood celebrities and sportspersons shown some interest towards this game and donated to help the team. Is it true?
Yes, it is true that some eminent personalities have shown their interest towards the sport and has donated to the team. Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir was the first sportsperson who came forward for the help and donated Rs.4 lakhs in the year 2015. Some other personalities who contributed were Mr Anand Mahindra, Mr Rahul Sharma of Micromax, Mr Mohammed Ali from South India Shelters, Royal Valtrans and Mr Rajni
Patel, and Mr RameshTaurani of Tips Music. Actually, none other than me donated to the team on the regular basis and I am not any public figure.
What about the next match?
The next game of men’s and women’s team is scheduled on March 2018.
They will be seen gearing up for the Championship to be held in Malaysia.
A talk with National Ice Hockey Team Captain Tsewang Gyaltson
Tell something about your early life...
I have spent my childhood in Leh only, my family is a native of Leh, I have completed my schooling from Ladakh Public School and after that, I moved to Faridabad and Dehradun for my further studies.
Since when you are playing Ice Hockey and what attracted you towards this game?
When I was in Sixth or Seven Standard, I had hockey trials for the first time wearing skates. I visited several times to see the sport in popular ‘Karzoo rink’ at Ladakh after inspiring from it I joined the skate-hockey classes conducted by Ladakh Winter Club. So I remember it was around 2005 when I started playing the sport.
How does it feel being a part of the National Team?
Obviously, being a part of the national team is a matter of pride for everyone and since I started playing this game I used to work hard to become part of the team. When some people playing with me were selected in the team after that my wish was increased. Now, I want to play this game till my fitness allows.
What differences do you see comparing Hockey and Ice Hockey in India?
Well, I have never played field hockey but I can say for sure that ice hockey is a lot faster than field hockey and the people watching the play are also seems very excited. I have also heard from my father and my seniors that in the old times when the gear of Ice Hockey was not available then the game was played using the equipment of field hockey.
What are the things according to you that the team should work on?
One of the major problems we are facing now is that we are not getting a proper time to practice due to lack of facilities or infrastructure. We are dependent on the naturally formed ice in Shimla and Ladakh which occurs only for around two months.
If we will get some artificially prepared rinks for our practice the thing will be turned better for the team.
Which is the best Ice Hockey team in the world and what facilities they are getting in comparison to the Indian team?
There are a lot of good teams in the world of Ice Hockey, and the good thing for them is that they do not have to feel aspired on the weather like us. We also have an international level facility Rink in Dehradun but after the match of a season, it has been closed since around 2011-2012. Also, in other countries, the facilities of Rinks for practice are available at different places.
Who is your favourite player in professional Ice Hockey sport?
There are three or four players in the game to whom I follow. Earlier, it was Dustin Brown and Patrick Kane whom I used to follow and nowadays Eric Plason is my favourite charts.
How do you see the future of the Ice Hockey in coming years?
The performance of the team has been very good in the recent two-three years and it will be a favourite sport for the youth in the coming years. And once again I would like to remind that if we will get three or four proper Rinks for the practice than the condition will be very favourable for us and positively we can stand with the topmost team of the sport.
Any message would you like to share with your fans?
I would like to say that ice hockey is fairly spacious and it is played in many countries like the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia, etc. along with the Asian countries and this is a very intra-sporting sport, I want to appeal to the people of India that please search about Ice Hockey on social media and know more about it and I believe they will like this game.
IIHF men in Kuwait.
Indian Ice Hockey Team
Harjinder Singh, General Secretary, Ice
Hockey Association of India.
Leh National Championship.
The Indian men in action.
Team India Captain Tsewang Gyaltson with 2nd place Trophy 2017 in Kuwait.