#SUPPORTICEHOCKEY

India’s underfunded, neglected ice hockey team just crowdsourced a trip to play in Kuwait

Quartz india
Quartz india

The cash-strapped national ice hockey team launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on April 4 for their trip to the Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup in Kuwait next week.

With the hashtag #SupportIceHockey skating across Twitter, the Ice Hockey Association of India urged the public to help them meet a Rs3.5 lakh ($5,630) goal through the online platform BitGiving. According to the website, each player had paid Rs20,000 from his own pocket. But the programme still fell short of funds because the government only provides money for the bigger competitions like the Asian Games and the Olympics.

“We demand our share of love, because be it cricket or ice hockey, the association of tricolour shall be respected everywhere #SupportIceHockey,” the organisation tweeted on April 3.

That love poured in from across the country over the next few days with individual donors sending anything from pocket money to Rs50,000 with supportive messages and encouragement. The team caught an even bigger break when Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, pledged his support. On Thursday afternoon, the team had bypassed their goal, according to their BitGiving page.

But the puck doesn’t stop there, said Vedank Singh, digital marketing head of the Ice Hockey Association of India. Singh, who has more than 22,000 followers on Twitter, was behind the planning and social media awareness campaign that turned this lesser-acknowledged sport into a national conversation this week.

“The campaign was very good, very successful,” he said. “But I want everyone to focus on the future of ice hockey now.”

Ice hockey, a sport that has garnered some traction in the chillier regions of India like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, was registered as a national sport in 2002. But still, Singh lamented, finding sponsors and getting government support has been a slippery situation in the past decade. He hopes the boost from the campaign and the Mahindra Group will be the start of a more sustainable and popular programme.

Unfortunately, the ice hockey team’s predicament is far too common among sports in India, though the Narendra Modi government has recently considered a bid to host the 2024 Olympics. From the corruption-laced Olympic Association of India to the scarcity of funding, many sports fall victim to their empty bank accounts and poor infrastructure, said Deepthi Bopaiah, marketing director at GoSports Foundation, a Bangalore non-profit organisation that invests in training and supporting competitive athletes in India.

“There’s no shortage of talent in India,” Bopaiah said. “But there’s also no formal structure for them to get to the top.”

To find and fund these athletes, and pave their way to the international arena, it will take political will, corporate sponsors and plenty of excited fans.

For now, the Indian ice hockey team is one icy stride closer to victory.

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