Bollywood star Akshay Kumar has become the biggest booster of hockey this side of Don Cherry.
The 44-year-old actor this week donated the equivalent of nearly $400,000 to the Ice Hockey Association of India to encourage people in his homeland to get involved in the sport.
Mr. Kumar is an executive producer of a new Indian-Canadian comedy about a young Sikh man caught between his family’s traditions and his love of hockey. Although Breakaway plays cultural incongruities for laughs, hockey is very much a reality in India.
“It’s getting popular,” said Ajay Virmani, one of the producers of the film. “It’s played in the mountains quite a bit.”
He points out that Canada’s favourite game isn’t as odd a leap for Indians as it might seem considering that field hockey is India’s national sport.
The connections between the two countries, forged by generations of immigrants to Canada as well as diplomatic, trade and cultural ties, mean it’s no surprise that Indians would take to something central to the Canadian identity in the way musicians here have adopted bhangra beats.
In Canada, minor and professional hockey leagues are intent on appealing to ethnic communities. The CBC broadcasts Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi and the Brampton Youth Hockey Association helps make it affordable for families to enroll their kids.
Still, the game has a long way to go in India. Without indoor rinks, it is limited to areas that have cold winter weather. To address that problem, India’s ice hockey association has conducted camps for both ice and in-line versions of the game since 2005.
And while they may not be ready for the NHL, Indian players will face off against the likes of the United Arab Emirates, Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand when they host the International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup of Asia next year.