There were many surprises last week when India's national ice hockey team surfaced on the radar, looking for donations to fund itself for an upcoming international competition starting in Kuwait on April 18.

The unsurprising bit was the fact that it was forced to seek donations on social media because of lack of private and government funds. However, here's another surprise, and a pleasant one this time: in less than a week, the team has been able to not only fund its costs through its campaign but has also got some corporate sponsors on board for the first time.

“I am as surprised as anyone,” Akshay Kumar, Director, Ice Hockey Association of India said. “We didn’t expect such a swift response to the campaign for which we have been trying to raise funds since a long time.”

Kumar said that the team has always been fighting for visibility with other popular games and now that it is getting media attention, money has started flowing in, which will help fund the costs of the team's travel to Kuwait to take part in the Asia division leg of the International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup which starts April 18.

After the team launched an online crowdfunding campaign in the beginning of the month, it invited donors to contribute anything from Rs 100 to Rs 1 lakh. The campaign supported with the hashtag #SupportIceHockey gained some limelight in the media which prompted interest from even some corporate honchos, including Anand Mahindra who has promised to contribute to the team.

Promising future

“We have got many enquiries and have been promised funds from many sponsors including Anand Mahindra who has promised Rs 5 lakh for the team,” Kumar said. “Some other companies have promised funds to the tune of Rs 10 lakh in total, which are yet to arrive in our bank account but we are extremely grateful”.

The players, too are quite happy with the response and media attention that they have received from many parts of the world, but Kumar insisted that they are mostly focussed on training hard. “It’s an important tournament and we don’t want them to be worried about funding or any other issue,” he said. “Even though they are getting interviewed and noticed on this scale for the first time, they are more concerned with their game for now.”

The team will use these funds to pay for coaches, obtain insurance, travel tickets and other equipment, Kumar said. “We have to pay for the international coaching that we are obtaining,” he said, adding that the coach has been shelling money from his own pockets so far.

The ice hockey team gets only three months of practice a year in winter, but the association hopes that now the government will throw open the indoor facility at Dehradun for them to practice. Right now, the team is still practicing in an indoor rink at a mall in Gurgaon which is only one fourth of the recommended size.

Kumar, however, hoped that the government will take notice. “Now that the country knows that there’s an ice hockey team in need of support, we are hoping to hear from the authorities too,” he said. “The facility in Dehradun is lying shut for a long time and the government should allow us to use it for practice but we haven’t heard a word yet.”

Asked if the campaign will continue to collect funds, Kumar said that the team will try to gather as much as possible in the coming days for the development of the cash-strapped sport and paying back its dues. “The expected expenditure in the upcoming tour would come out to be Rs 20 lakhs,” he said. “We don’t have the complete funds yet but if the promised funding comes through, we will close this campaign and move on to the next one.”