It won’t be a small achievement by any means for India to get its first indoor and, therefore, an all-weather ice hockey rink up and running in Leh, and that’s what drove an army of officials here, including Aivaz Omorkanov, vice-president for Asia and Oceania in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
The work on the project has gathered momentum ever since Ladakh was bifurcated from Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and became a separate union territory. And if things continue to go as planned, the days when the Indian ice hockey teams could only practice for 2-3 months on frozen ponds and lakes in winters could be a thing of the past in about a year’s time.
The Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, BD Mishra, along with the Sports Secretary, Ravinder Kumar, is spearheading the project and invited the IIHF delegation to review the site in Leh and give their inputs.
Omorkanov, who used to represent Kyrgyzstan during his days as a player, did an extensive review and inspection of the area, along with Harald Springfeld, IIHF Sport Development Manager for Asia and Oceania.
“We gave some inputs from the IIHF side, which can be implemented at this stage of the project,” said Omorkanov, talking exclusively with Timesofindia.com in Leh. “At the same time, we met the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, together with the Sports Secretary. We had some productive discussions and are looking forward to great cooperation between all the sports entities here in Ladakh and, of course, in India overall.”
Ice hockey in India is in its nascent stage and striving to become a part of mainstream sports and to reach the next levels. A bigger part of the reason is the hot weather dominating climatic conditions in most parts of the country, which is why 90 percent of players who have represented India in ice hockey, both men and women, have been from Ladakh.
Omorkanov felt that a country that is among the top nations in field hockey can also go up the ranks in ice hockey.
“I would like to say, and to highlight, that India is one of the best and strongest countries in the world in field hockey, which puts India in a good position to play very well in ice hockey…We see big potential in Indian ice hockey, especially with the field hockey background,” Omorkanov told TimesofIndia.com
With countries in the middle east, which don’t have any winter season, putting all-weather ice hockey rinks in place, the IIHF sees no reason why it can’t be done across India, and not just in Ladakh.
“India is not the only country that has the high-temperature issue. We also have the middle east, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, who actually have the same issue. They are working on it, developing the infrastructure, building (all weather) ice hockey arenas, and now, as you might know, Saudi Arabia will be hosting the 2029 Asian Winter Games,” Omorkanov added.
“The purpose of IIHF’s visit is to coordinate with the Ice Hockey Association of India to have the proper infrastructure and environment in India in place and make the next steps.”
During their visit to the stadium site, the IIHF officials were seen keenly sifting through the pages of the design planned for the stadium, as the former captain of the Indian men’s hockey team, Tundup Namgyal, explained the proposed layout.
“First of all, it is very essential to have more dressing rooms. It (the proposed model) first seemed to have only two dressing rooms, so that’s why the input from our side was to increase the number of dressing rooms to also host international events. At the same time, we reviewed the driveways for the ice-resurfacing machine and walkways of the athletes,” Omorkanov said, sharing his inputs with Timesofindia.com.
“These were actually the two biggest issues that we could see today.”
On the question of funding infrastructure for nations that are in a developing phase in ice hockey, Omorkanov said IIHF is not at a stage where it could help any such projects monetarily.
“Direct investment or direct development support, I mean money-wise, is not foreseen from the side of the IIHF. What we are doing is helping with development activities in the whole Asia and Oceania region…We are having a big joint venture with the Olympic Council of Asia, which is a development camp, in which we conduct several activities,” Omorkanov said.
“We are not as big as cricket or FIFA or FIBA. So that’s why we are looking into different options of helping and supporting our members.”
Money, of course, can be a big issue in bringing up an all-weather ice hockey rink, which involves a lot of technicalities, ranging from laying the underground chilling mechanism to differentiating the temperature between the playing area and the spectator galleries, and so on.
The UT of Ladakh has a budget of around Rs 60 crore for the stadium project in Leh. Once this project is completed, the outdoor arena in Kargil will also be turned into an indoor all-weather facility.
“There is more accessibility in Leh (compared to Kargil). So our effort is first to establish this (Leh) project and then we will implement the same in Kargil,” Ravinder Kumar, Secretary for Sports and Youth Affairs in Ladakh told TimesofIndia.com.
“The indoor rink being built here in Leh has an approximate budget of Rs 60 crore. As far as the tentative timeline (for completion), we hope that the roof and the indoor chilling mechanism is completed by this winter. Whatever will be left we will complete in the next season,” Kumar added.
Omorkanov, meanwhile, also met officials from Royal Enfield, which is supporting ice hockey in Ladakh as part of the company’s CSR initiatives and Moses Kunzang, who is the Joint Director for Sports and Youth Affairs in Ladakh.
He rounded off the discussion by expressing that the IIHF would also want to meet India’s Sports Minister, Anurag Thakur, to discuss the development of ice hockey in the country.
“Our focus is not only one state, but the whole India with all its states. I would say that after a meeting with the Sports Minister, we would like to expand our focus to the whole of India.”