The Indian women’s ice hockey team was invited to participate in the Union Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in March 2022. The tournament was organised by Fatima Al Qubaisi, who captains the UAE national ice hockey team. The invitation letter was sent to the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI), which is the nodal body for the sport in India. IHAI did not have the resources to fund the team as it had allotted funds for the team’s participation in the Women Challenge Cup of Asia Division I in June 2022. They suggested that the players can participate as the UT Ladakh team (as all the players are from Ladakh) if the UT Administration was able to fund them. The players approached Sports Secretary, UT Ladakh, Ravinder Kumar for support. He agreed to fund the team but four days prior to their departure for Abu Dabhi, they received a letter from the commissioner secretary that they cannot fund the team.
Goal Tender for Team India, Noor Jahan said, “I was not clear why they were being so picky about the tournament when ice hockey is still in its infancy in Ladakh. Players must use every opportunity to gain experience. That letter was very disheartening. We shared it with the organisers and they were upset too. They agreed to pay for the air tickets for 10 players and they had already arranged for our accommodation. However, since we had already prepared to participate as a team we could not randomly drop players. We were still keen to go and started approaching various people for funding despite the sever time crunch. We tried calling the hon’ble MP, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal but he did not pick up our calls. One of the few people who did respond was Councillor from Saspol in LAHDC, Leh, Smanla Dorjey Norboo who agreed to help. He took some loans to enable us to book our tickets. We also started crowd funding to repay the money he had borrowed.” The players claim that Sports Secretary, UT Ladakh, Ravinder Kumar did try his best to support the team but was unable to see it through. In the end, the team left for Abu Dhabi without a coach and a manager.
The tournament included six teams including the national teams of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and India along with two teams with players from different parts of the world. Assistant Captain of Team India, Deachen Dolker said, “This time our team performed very well. There was unity in the team and everyone gave 100%.” They faced various challenges during the tournament including the lack of support staff, which forced each team member to take on more responsibility. Noor Jahan said, “Earlier I would admire other teams. This time I started admiring Team India’s remarkable skill, talent and drive. The other teams also praised our performances.”
Deachen explained that normally she would have to take on additional responsibility but this time the whole team took on more responsibility. This was echoed by team members such as Tsetan Dolma who said, “Generally in team meetings, the coach briefs the team about the approach for each game. This time, everyone contributed to the team’s strategy and team meetings were very productive. Everyone had a positive attitude, which boosted the morale of the team.”
The players learnt a lot through this experience. Several of them spoke about the need to constantly improve various aspects of their game. Some senior team members such as Deachen and Noor Jahan commented on this how the team has evolved over the years. “This time we saw professionalism in the team. We managed our fears and anxiety much better and gave 100% in each game,” they added.
In the end, the team won the silver medal in the tournament. This has strengthened the self-belief of the team and each team member, which will help them in future games. I have seen the hard work that these players have put in over the years and it is heartening to see their efforts bear fruit. Deachen explained that many people think participating in sports is pure fun. “However, we have overcome many challenges in our journey so far. Some people belittle our achievement by claiming that the other teams must have been weak. This is not true. We have won through our efforts.”
In addition, the achievement will also help individual careers like Tsetan Dolma who is pursuing a Master’s in Physical Education. She said, “I have not participated in any international games since I started my masters due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a good opportunity. I hope it will help change the perception of sports in Ladakhi society.”
Furthermore, the win has made the team more resilient. Tsetan described how they motivated themselves during the tournament. “Initially, I was demotivated when I saw this player from Kazakistan. She was very good! As I watched her, I started to question my ability to play ice hockey. Later, I realised that I need to push myself and kept telling myself that if she is able to play at this level, so can I! This helped me improve as a player.”
Deachen agreed with her. She said, “Two of the teams were very good and our team was a little hesitant initially. Then, all the players encouraged each other to give their best. We were always aware that with the necessary practice, training and application, we can win any match. This time we did not have a coach and developed our own game plans. Somehow, we clicked as a team.”
When asked about the challenges they face, Deachen said finances remain the biggest issue. “The financial issue affected all of us. I was very disturbed by the discussions on social media over this issue. This increased pressure on us as people were watching our performances. In addition, many of us had to cope with the lack of support staff, especially a physiotherapist. For instance, I had muscle cramps in the last match and could not play to my potential,” she added.
In the end, the financial challenge for this tournament did get resolved. As the crowd funding efforts become more popular it caught the attention of the hon’ble Lt. Governor of Ladakh, R. K. Mathur who agreed to pay for the team from his discretionary fund. Similarly, Indian Youth Congress also donated funds. The funds from the Lt. Governor will be used to repay the loan taken to support the team’s participation, while other funds will support the team’s participation in the Women Challenge Cup of Asia Division I in June 2022.
Deachen feels these struggles will continue for a few years. “Ice hockey is growing in popularity. It is the responsibility of all the girls currently playing ice hockey to help establish a strong foundation for the sport and improve its stature,” she added. Tsetan agreed and said, “The efforts being made by players and Ladakh Women’s Ice hockey Foundation to improve women’s ice hockey will continue. Perhaps, in the next five to six years women’s ice hockey will overcome these challenges once and for all.”
By Kunzes Dolma
Kunzes Dolma is a part of the editorial team at Stawa