Part II – Hockey Hidden in India: The Women’s National Team

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Photo from The Hockey Foundation.

Last week, I wrote a short piece about the growth of hockey in Ladakh, India – home to the highest ice rink in the world at 3,484 meters. This small region of the Indian Himalayas, with a population of less than 300,000 people, has fallen in love with hockey.  They can only play three months out of the year because those are the three months where the ponds are frozen.  Remember when nature controlled when you would play, eat, and sleep?  You probably don’t because most hockey players and fans have grown up in an era where hockey has been housed indoors at $300 an hour and the ice is maintained with chemicals.  But in Ladakh, when even the locals run away from the deep freeze, the hockey players rejoice.  If home is where your heart is, then home, for many Ladkahi people, is on the rink.

The founder of The Hockey Foundation, Adam Sherlip, kindly shared a bunch more media via Twitter related to the growth of hockey in Ladakh. As a result, I decided to do a follow up piece.

Sherlip shared two videos with me. The first video explains how hockey arrived in India, which is often stereotyped as a land of sweltering heat, cricket, and Indian elephants – the complete opposite of what should come to mind when one envisions hockey. But the problem with stereotypes is that they turn a partial truth into a universal one.  Similarly, not all of Canada is snow-covered and not all French people wear berets; therefore, while many Indians may not participate in ice hockey, those who do seem to consider hockey a significant part of their culture and identity. Depending on the account, (forms of) hockey in India date back anywhere from a century to six decades ago, and while the sport isn’t exactly flourishing it is fighting for space and recognition:

The second video details how hockey is changing lives in Ladakh:

Historically, the game has been played by members of the Indian army; however, in the first video you might have noticed that there were a number of young women playing hockey as well.  I asked Sherlip if there were women’s teams or if the only opportunities for girls/women to play were on co-ed teams. I learned that this year India will be sending a National Women’s team, for the first time ever, to the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia in Chinese Taipei (March 21-26)! I also found out that the women have to borrow equipment from the men’s team after they have finished their practices. I’m just going to let that thought marinate in your mind for a few seconds…

I don’t even like putting on my own equipment when it’s not dry, I can’t even imagine putting on someone else’s equipment! This is unacceptable, but hey, women (and others from the Global South) are used to getting the short end of the stick right?

Unless people appreciate our hard work the sponsors would stay away. Girls often don’t have personal gear. We borrow from the boys. We don’t have a place to train properly and sometimes it can be embarrassing that we don’t have change rooms. We wait for the boys to finish their training and allow us some time on the ice.

This may sound like an “archaic” situation but for any female who has played hockey, I can almost guarantee you that these words resonate as all too familiar.  Players take time off from their jobs and away from their families so that they can practice and play:

Kunzes, 25, has taken a month off from her job at the Delhi Public School, where she teaches skating, while two of her teammates – Jigmet Angmo (20) and Diskit Angmo (19) – have taken a break from their college studies in New Delhi, much to the dismay of their families. They have been doing this every December since 2012. For them, ice hockey is what gully cricket [the cricket equivalent of street hockey] is for the rest of the country. ‘We simply book our tickets, land up in Leh and get ready to face our parents,’ Kunzes says with a grin.

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Photo from BitGiving.

The fact that the women of Ladkh have to use the men’s equipment after practice and take time off from work to play hockey is an interesting/unfortunate connection point to how the best women players in Canada and the United States also have to have full time jobs in order to sustain their hockey careers. The conditions and contexts are vastly different and yet both are representative of the gender inequality that faces women in sports more broadly. Sherlip mentioned to me that the captain of the women’s team recently received her Master’s degree in Physical Education and takes part in coaching sessions helping to further spread the love of hockey throughout the community.

Equipment, travel, facilities, and financial support are a very real struggle for both the Men’s and Women’s teams. Sherlip described the logistics of transporting equipment (new/used) as a “nightmare”, which is understandable when, from what I can tell there are only two land routes into Ladakh (please feel free to comment if you have more information on this matter). Both the roads through the Kashmir Valley or through the high desert plateau of Rupsho are only open to traffic between June-November. Flights from Delhi make their way to and from Leh (the largest town in Ladakh) three times a week. In other words, transporting large amounts of gear requires great planning and resources.

If you are interested in supporting either the Men’s or Women’s Indian National Teams you can:

  • Donate directly to The Hockey Foundation. It is a US based charity and international credit cards are accepted. When donating please make a note that the funds are for the Indian National Team(s). This is the best way to support the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI) from abroad.
  • You could purchase one of these sweet Team India jerseys that were created for their 2015 friendly against the Brampton Beast.
  • If you have access to international transportation, consider helping with the transportation of gear from point A to point B because there are no hockey shops available in Ladakh.
  • If you have access to hockey equipment suppliers, connect with The Hockey Foundation to see how you can help support their players.

We don’t usually make appeals for charity on Hockey in Society; in fact, we usually critique them. Still, (1) when you see people who find ways to play the game in the face of great adversity it is always inspirational, and (2) attempts that try to diversify the game and increase access are okay in my book.  The challenges that face the Indian National Teams are not unique to this situation, although they might be more extreme.  The difficulty of creating sustainable and equitable sporting systems are a global challenge.  It is an important reminder that “donating” often does not solve the problem. The need for donations should signal that fundamental infrastructures are missing. So how then can we help make ice hockey in India a self-sufficient endeavour?

You can learn more about the Women’s National Team in the video below:

 

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7 thoughts on “Part II – Hockey Hidden in India: The Women’s National Team

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