Upon my return to Delhi, I made sure that I could go to Dehra Dun to visit the arena under construction. This was scheduled as part of a two week trip around Northern India, combining work with pleasure. I had spent a few nights at an amazing riverside camp up river from Rishikesh (where the Beatles went in 67 when the wrote the "White Album"), where I stayed in a gorgeous tent with a friendly staff and delicious food. While I was there, I did a small mountain hike, and some great river rafting/kayaking. If you're interested in this camp, please contact me and I can put you in touch with the company!
[NOTE: This report on the rink is my actual report to the Ice Hockey Association of India. Being that everything I have written has been personal and from my experiences, with the explicit interest of helping the development of ice hockey in India, I see no reason why this should be censored, as all it can do is put pressure on those in charge to do the right thing for all]
When I arrive at the rink, a few things struck me immediately. 1) That the rink was significantly out of the way of the middle of the town/city, and 2) it is well behind in construction based upon the schedule I was aware of and expecting.
The structure is clearly the outline of an arena, and from what it looks like, the surface itself is going to be constructed beautifully. At least, that’s what it looks like on the outside. There is clearly an inefficiency surrounding the construction that is not only slowing down the speed of the construction – which will raise costs of the rink – but it may also hinder the quality of the construction, which could have drastic effects on the usability of the rink.
The importance of not only doing this rink sufficiently, but doing it perfectly, can not be understated. Being the first international-standard ice hockey rink in India, a lot of money will be wasted if the system interferes. Concurrently, this is the opportunity for India to propel itself onto the global “rink” (as opposed to stage), alongside Asian countries like China, Japan and Kazakhstan. If all goes smoothly (figuratively and literally – e.g. the maintenance of the surface), there is no reason why India can’t become a major player on the global hockey scene. The first step is a quality ice rink.
I have additional questions and concerns about the rink. Immediately upon entering, I was told that the foyer will have a circular rink for children. There are a few issues with this. 1) A rink in an entrance will be susceptible to outside weather, and ice and air conditions will be incredibly difficult to manage, making hockey conditions very difficult as a result. 2) A circular rink is not appropriate for hockey at any age, even toddlers. The shape of the rink must be a rounded-rectangle, or it is useless for hockey. The rink could be useful for children even if it’s 1/3 the size of a standard international rink (60m X 30m), as long as it’s rectangular (with rounded corners). 3) If this rink is taking up such a large chunk of a small entrance-way, I am curious where there will be room for a skate rental office, a pro shop, and a snack bar? These are essential to a successful and profitable ice arena, as they are going to be major sources of income, as well as provide the public with temporary/permanent equipment to utilize, and food/beverages to occupy their time in the facility.
On the other end of the rink, there are locker rooms under construction. I am curious how many locker rooms are planned on the architectural drawings. I couldn’t tell if there were 2 or more, but it is essential that an arena being used by the public have at least 4 changing rooms with ample space. With 2 changing rooms, the teams from the following game will not be able to change until the teams from the current games are done. That leads to massive delays in the schedule, and a lot of wasted time after the ice-resurfacer has driven off the rink. That equals a lot of lost revenue!
While I am confident the cooling system has been expertly built by the Canadian firm, I am not confident that the building itself is being constructed properly. An ice rink needs to have a very consistent and carefully controlled atmosphere. Part of the indoor weather relies upon the construction of the building itself. Since heat rises, then there must be a proper cooling, air-conditioning, and de-humidifying system. There must also be proper insulation in the roof and walls, as well as tightly constructed walls and roof. If this gets completed improperly, not only will you have an inconsistent ice surface, which will greatly hinder on-ice performance and stunt the efficiency of growth and enjoyment of ice hockey in India, it will become exponentially more expensive to operate the facility over time. This is basic revenue and expenses…and ultimately, profits!
In regards to these major issues, I am curious what equipment is installed to manage the air and humidity, and what is on order? I have seen the cooling tanks for the surface, but this is not enough to maintain ice in an arena. Additionally, an ice-resurfacer (aka Zamboni) is required. This machine is a major investment, and should be handled as such. They are expensive, and quality is of the utmost importance, as maintenance for a used vehicle is a major expense in North America, let alone India. From my understanding, a Zamboni has not been purchased, and there has been minimal work done by the parties responsible for overseeing rink construction/maintenance/
I understand the financial situation for the Uttarakhand government is grim, but there is a general apathy that has been taking place from almost all aspects regarding the arena. The managers overseeing construction have not put enough pressure on the contractors to properly construct the building in a timely manner. Additionally, the standards for construction are not adhering to international requirements. To have Indians with no experience in ice arenas offering their expertise, when Canadians are contributing their “two-cents” to the project, is unjustified. I would defer to almost any Canadian 95% of the time, by the inherent fact that they have seen hundreds of arenas through all different stages of operation. There are no Indian experts in ice rink construction, and to behave in a manner that suggests otherwise is doing a dis-service to the sport, and to India.
There are also concerns that there is not only enough money to manage the facility when it opens, but not enough money to finish construction properly. As identified earlier, this would effectively nullify the whole purpose of an ice rink. The arena must be completed to the fullest extent, or the whole project has been an utter waste of money. Wherever the funding comes from, it needs to happen soon, and with full commitment.
Once the facility opens, it needs to open completely. There is no point in operating a rink for 5-8 hours in a day. A successful ice arena can stay open for nearly 20 hours with fully booked ice slots. I understand that this is India, and ice hockey is barely played in this country, but my mission is to not only fill the ice slots with full bookings, but generate such buzz around this new wonder in Dehra Dun, that there’s a wait list!
The state (AND national) governments need to invest in this facility, because the investment will pay off in the long term! As hockey grows in India, new markets will open up. Wealthier families in Northern India and in Delhi will come to participate in ice hockey. Tourists will also start to flock to a country that can add one more point to its long list of incredible features. This is a program that every department within the government can reap benefits from. Obviously, the sports ministries should be doing everything they can to make this rink a success, but there should be as much interest and support from the tourism ministry, as this rink can become the hub of hockey around Asia, including Russia and China! The health department should contribute to ensure proper treatment for injuries, and assurances of safety for the timid. The education department should offer incentives to students that excel in hockey to provide better education to them, as smart hockey players become better hockey players! The transportation department should offer express shuttle service to the arena (I understand there will be a bus route, it should be promoted!) so that players from town centers and those coming by train can make it to the arena quickly and efficiently. The ministry that handles human services and welfare can provide hockey to the poor, and give them an opportunity to grow in a sometimes restrictive and difficult culture. All of these recommendations can provide a combination of revenue, goodwill, and good public relations, all important when trying to operate an administration.
This is the argument I want to present not only to the Uttarakhand government, or the national government, but to the Jammu and Kashmir government, as well as to administrations around India. Ice hockey is a sport that
What is better than playing hockey in the world’s largest democracy, with such welcoming and friendly and passionate people as Indians! Right now, this is a Ladakhi sport, and if this rink doesn’t get completed and managed properly, it will remain a Ladakhi sport.