I also decided this was my chance to really speak my mind. With some liquid courage in me (although I didn’t need any to say what I wanted to say), I tried to reinforce that we need to uphold the best interest of the game. The moment people start letting emotions and politics get in the way of hockey, the game suffers. When the game suffers, everyone loses. If we wanted hockey in Ladakh and in India to grow and improve, we had to behave in a manner that was conducive of it.
Points of interest regarding what I tried to prevent/change included the selection of the team, how to operate and grow the LWSC, how to coexist with the Ice Hockey Association of India (and by extension, their leadership) and even how to select captains.
When it came to the team itself, I was not given the team that I wanted. There’s no other way to put it. Although I had assisted in scouting, the participants of the national tournament held some weeks prior organized a selection committee to select the national team, of which the IHAI was only to vote if there was a tie. If I had the authority to change this, I would’ve scrapped that whole concept. What ensued was negotiations over who would get selected from each team, and people that weren’t even on the committee ended up voting. I have heard reliable statements regarding the fact that there were deals for certain players to make it, and complaints when others didn’t. The end result was that a team was compiled where almost half of them were not even close to qualified, and I mean that with consideration for local levels of play! This had to stop, and it will in the future.
I also spoke to them about coordinating their efforts in developing hockey. They needed to focus more on the kids, and with the assistance of someone like Henk, they had just laid a great foundation. Now it needed to grow. Ending the barrage of self-serving tournaments and holding more developmet camps would also enhance the level of play in Ladakh, especially as the rink in Dehra Dun (6 hours north of Delhi) was slated to open prior to next winter, increasing competition.
The LWSC had become complacent and took solace in the fact that they were the driving force of hockey in India, which is true. But that’s like saying you’re the best political candidate in a military dictatorship. You’re the only option. That will change once the Dehra Dun rink opens, and I vowed to the LWSC that I am not only there to help them. My mission is to help hockey grow, wherever that may be. They specifically asked me to favor them, and my response was phrased as carefully as possible that I would help everyone, but that Ladakh is where I will help the most. For now.
What they needed to understand is that at the end of the day, being the best at ice hockey in India is not going to get them very far (I resisted making another lame metaphor). It’s about being able to play at the international level.
I received complaints about how it’s only the LWSC that hosts tournaments, and that the army never does anything like that. All they do is participate in the tournaments that the LWSC hosts. Hockey began in Ladakh with the army, and while they used to be the best players in the region, the level of play is starting to balance out with the civilians. I thought this was one of the most unreasonable and selfish statements yet. I told the members there, with more gusto and enthusiasm, verbatim:
“The mission of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club is to hold hockey events (among other Winter sports). The mission of the army is to fight Pakistan. For you to expect them to hold a hockey tournament, and get upset when they don’t, is unreasonable on your part. They’re not required to do that. You are.”
I think it sunk in.
Their sentiment regarding how to choose captains was just as frustrating. They had asked me when I was going to select captains (1 captain, 2 alternates/assistants), to which I responded that I would have the team vote and see if they chose the right players. They said Akshay wanted me to choose the captain. My response was that just because Akshay wants me to pick captains, doesn’t mean I am going to pick them. The best thing for the team was for them to understand who their leaders were, and to give them a collective vote of confidence. They countered with the fact that since they were the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, and they are the ones doing all of the hockey, the only fair thing to do was have the captain be from one of the civilian (J&K) teams.
I controlled my disgust, and delicately informed them that this is the worst possible attitude to exude if we’re trying to do the best thing for the team and the program. At the same time, I agreed on a techinicality. In my opinion, the best candidate for captain was a civilian player, and a good candidate for assistant captain was from the army. I said that if the team didn’t select these players, I would make an executive decision and over-rule them, but I was confident that they’d do the right thing.
I was proven right. When we took the vote, the players first requested that they discuss who to vote for. I vetoed that motion immediately. This wasn’t a political campaign or a popularity contest. This was meant to be their gut instinct on who the best person to lead them was. In overwhelming numbers, they voted for the captain and assistant captain that we all had wanted anyway, and a controversy was avoided.
Their collective opinions of the Ice Hockey Association of India, were also construed. I set out to correct their views, and take a more cooperative stance. I can’t speak for the past, being that I was never in India, but I do know that my experience these past few months have been pretty damn good. The IHAI only received government recognition recently, so everything they tried to do prior to that was probably next to impossible. Promises that may have been made, most likely couldn’t have been upheld, because there was no footing to stand on. That has started to chang. Now that they have support from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the India Sports Ministry, as well as someone with experience to play the hero (tada!), there is a much better forecast on the horizon.
That horizon depends on the rink in Dehra Dun. Upon my return to Delhi, I scheduled some time to visit the rink, and see how construction was progressing. The success of ice hockey in India, including Ladakh (whether they know it or not), depends on this rink getting up and skating from the moment it opens.
And with that, I leave Ladakh.