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Hockey World Cup 2023: No support from anywhere, Wales' crowd-funded outfit wants to make it count

The passion to play hockey despite overwhelming odds, it seems, is the tonic for Wales players which keeps the excitement bubbling over.

January 13, 2023 / 07:50 AM IST

The others get paid to represent their nation but this bunch of mavericks pay to play for the flag.

The passion to play hockey despite overwhelming odds, it seems, is the tonic for Wales players which keeps the excitement bubbling over.

With next to negligible crowd support -- the biggest stadium in the country can accommodate 200 spectators -- and player having to shell out 1,000 pounds every year to play for the national team, only a band of diehard athletes can manage to dribble past the hardships and still sport broad smiles on their faces.

Wales, who are making their FIH Men's World Cup debut here, will be pleasantly surprised -- or, perhaps, awestruck -- when they see the stadiums in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela packed to the rafters.

Their journey to India perhaps hasn't been business-class either as the team had to resort to crowd-funding to raise 25,000 pounds to cover flights, accommodation and meals in the two host cities.

"Crowd-funding is part of the means to reduce the cost to the players. Players also contribute; every player pays 1,000 pound per year to play for Wales," said head coach Daniel Newcombe said ahead of his side's opening match against England.

India and Spain are the other teams they will have to contend with in Group D.

"Hockey is a small sport and our national stadium can take about 200 people, which is very different from the one here (21,000-capacity Birsa Munda Stadium).

"Our funding from the government is limited and so players also contribute. But due to our recent successes by qualifying for bigger tournaments, we have got more trips and our government has been really helpful. We have got a shirt sponsor now and this has reduced the cost (on the players)," added Newcombe.

Wales had made it to the showpiece through the European qualifying event in Cardiff, their country's capital.

Newcombe takes pride in saying that his side has made it to the showpiece event three years after hitting rock-bottom in world hockey.

"We need public exposure, sponsor to grow. But, we have moved from 36th spot to 15th (in FIH rankings) in the third year of European hockey and now to the World Cup. We are not done yet." Captain Rupert Shipperley said the status of hockey back home leaves him frustrated at times.

"It's frustrating at times... the situation. There has been improvement in the last few years but not yet at the level it should be," the 30-year-old mid-fielder said on Thursday.

Shipperley is one of the two players who played for Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympics but is now donning the Wales jersey.

Jacob Draper is the other one who played for GBR in Tokyo.

So, will there be split loyalties? "No room for friendship as of now," coach Newcombe said, as Shipperley will be up against his GBR team-mates on Friday.

"We may not be household names in India but we have to prove that we have not come here to make up the numbers," Newcombe added.

first published: Jan 13, 2023 07:49 am