Although the Winter Olympics may have recently come and gone, a remote village in Ladakh may just light the spark for generating a greater interest in winter sports among Indians.
For six years, a Bird Group enterprise called iSKATE has successfully run an all-season ice rink in Gurgaon. They have taken their operations to the next level in partnership with The Hockey Foundation (THF), a New York-based non-profit, by recently inaugurating an ice-rink in the Chibra Kargyam village situated in the remote Changthang region of Ladakh.
Situated at an altitude of 14,350 feet above sea level, this is the ‘highest’ ice-rink in the world. Marking the inauguration of this 60mx30m ice rink, a 16-team tournament was conducted, setting a Guinness World Record of the ‘highest’ ice hockey event, reported the Times of India.
THF had spent two years collecting funds for the ice-rink, reported the daily publication. This New York-based non-profit has similarly built ice-rinks in Ireland, Ukraine, Egypt and Argentina. In constructing these ice rinks and spreading the gospel of winter sports, they claim to empower underprivileged youth and support community development, reported ToI.
“With support from the government and sporting bodies, we are committed to strengthening the infrastructural development of world-class ice-skating sporting venues such as iSKATE, so that players can perform at their best,” said Karan Rai, operations & business development head, iSKATE, to the Times of India. In partnership with THF, iSKATE is looking to promote winter sports through ice hockey and coaching programmes organised throughout the year that teach skating. They currently employ four members of the current Indian ice hockey team at their Gurgaon facility.
In addition to opening the facility in Ladakh, iSKATE is also attempting to work with the Uttarakhand government towards reviving India’s only international-sized ice rink in Dehradun. Even though their facility in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, is a crucial practice venue for the Indian ice hockey team, it is barely 1/4th the size of an international rink and players can only hone their basic skills. Their facility has also hosted various national level events in figure and speed skating.
With a capacity of 2500, this ice facility in Dehradun was constructed for the South Asian Winter Games in 2011 but has remained inactive since because the State government couldn’t afford to operate and maintain it. With their intervention and greater impetus from sports authorities at the Central and State level, maybe India can aim for glory in the next edition of the Winter Olympics.