Andrea Thumshirn is a former hockey player from Germany who has played the game for over 30 years. She is the founder of the Hockey Village India (HVI) project in Garh Himmat Singh village in the Dausa district of Rajasthan. HVI has been involved in the emancipation of the kids from the village through hockey and education since it’s inception about four years ago.
Now, in partnership with Floris-Jan Bovelander, a former Dutch international, Andrea is working to bring the sport of beach hockey to India. HVI will be organizing the International Beach Hockey Cup in Goa starting on November 7, 2013.
We caught up with her for an interview where Andrea gave us her views on the tournament as well as her ongoing project in Rajasthan.
How did beach hockey emerge as a concept? Was it initially started as a competitive sport or more of a recreational activity?
As sports like beach volleyball and beach football have developed from fun sports to now serious disciplines, Floris Jan Bovelander, the world hockey star of the 90s gave it a try with beach hockey in 2004. Beach hockey is still a fun sport.
In Europe, our summers are very short, so opportunities to have good weather and perfect conditions are rare and almost unpredictable. I myself gave it a try 6 years back during a field hockey fun tournament – one day was arranged on the beach and we had immediately a kind of holiday atmosphere.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the game of beach hockey across the globe? How popular has it become since inception and which pockets of the world is it predominantly common in?
Beach hockey was born in the Netherlands and moved from there to the Netherlands and Belgium. In the meantime, teams from UK, Spain, France and even Brazil are playing. We heard from an introduction tournament last year in New Zealand and I as well got an e-mail from Australia asking for equipment. In Asia it is pretty new and we are happy to be the first to introduce the sport here in the country.
Is there any instance of such a concept having been tried before, even on a smaller scale for that matter?
In Europe there are several summer tournaments – mainly in the Netherlands and Germany. There was even a European Championship and next year there will be even a World cup at the same time and venue than the hockey world cup.
I am sure that Beach hockey can be developed as a separate sport especially in Asia – the good weather conditions almost all year long are perfect for beach sports.
At the moment in Europe, field hockey player are playing eventually Beach Hockey, but that could be changed by conducting a separate Beach hockey league and start with kids already. While field hockey always depends on perfect infrastructure – meaning astro turf, but sand is always sand (even if there are of course as well different qualities).
As regards Hockey Village India, is this the first event that HVI is partnering with in a big way?
Yes that is our first big event in India we are partnering – we partnered already with some German hockey clubs for kids tournaments back in Germany. Actually we are the organizer of the Beach Hockey Tournament as of now, but fund raising will only happen on the last day as we are not allowed to mix it up with sports on the beach and not for a German-based foundation.
I believe you’d undertaken two cross-country drives in an auto-rickshaw, the latest one being to Goa. And you’d mentioned that that’s when you got the idea for the event. What was the most significant memory of that trip? And what attracted you to Goa?
Well – I am a rickshaw junkie in the meantime and I even got one of the rickshaws back from Goa and I am driving it in the village here. Being a foreign lady in an Indian rickshaw is a crazy combination which creates a lot of attention. That was the aim of the trip.
For me personally I love to be at the heartbeat of the country. Life happens on the road. Sitting in an AC car will not give you the same feeling then swallowing all the dust of the road. You can stop wherever you want for a chai and even to break down once a day was fun and part of the whole journey.
On our ride to Goa in January we were experiencing a lot of great Indian hockey hospitality along the way. We started from our village and went via Jaipur to Ajmer. There we stayed at the hockey stadium. The people there gave us contacts for Chittogarh and Bhilwara, we stopped there and got hosted.
From there we got contacts for Bhara and from there onwards to Varoda and so on. So we were well taken care of! The best moment for me was to drive on the famous Marine Drive in Mumbai – I love Mumbai and we were not allowed to go there by rickshaw.
Over the years, you have managed to get people from different fields – sportspersons, actors, and volunteers both from India and abroad – to come down and provide their support for HVI. Could you tell us who some of the most notable ones have been and how they have helped the kids at HVI?
Well, famous people helped us here and there with their name. Unfortunately nobody seriously stayed with us. I realized that we are a very small NGO and very special. I am running all on my own. Even for me it is difficult to give up work as I am already 24hrs so much into it. But the Hockey network all over the globe is working well for us. We got lots of material donated from all over the world I would say. I am a great fan of networking!
I read that India’s captain Sardara Singh is a goodwill ambassador for HVI. Have there been any other Indian hockey players to have lent their support for HVI? In your meeting with Sardara Singh, what did he have to say about the project and its development?
Sardara is of course a big idol for our hockey kids first of all – they adore him! They met him during HIL personally and got an autograph and a handshake and a picture with him. Sardara is a good friend of mine and he even sponsors one of our best player’s for their school fees – Ramesh – we call him the next Sardara.
He appreciates our work here but he was not able to make it to the village yet. The camp and tournament schedule is very tough and whenever he is free he would spend time with his family, which is very much understandable. Our kids met almost the whole India team, we met as well Moritz Fuerste, Nico Jacobi and Oscar Deeke and we had already 2 coaching sessions with Michael Nobbs in the National Stadium.
Harendra Singh was the first one to come to our village in summer 2011 and he accompanied us to Jaipur where we had our first match with the boys. Baljit Singh, the goalkeeper was as well in the village and we call him from time to time and he is giving tips to our goalkeeper. For them he is the biggest hero alive! Sreejesh is as well sponsoring the school fees of one of our hockey kids and he is very much interested in our work. Even he promised a visit – if time permits…
Do you also plan to build a team of hockey players and get them to tour not only across India but also perhaps Europe, to face other teams and build exposure?
Of course I would love to take my kids to Europe – so far that is only a dream as it would be too costly at the moment. But – 4 of our U15 boys will have the chance to play in one of the best teams in their age group in Germany after their exams in April. We told the boys that the chance is there for everybody – their performance at school and on the ground as well as their attendance and behaviour is counting in for them being selected. They still didn’t realize what that would mean to them to play 10 weeks in Germany, but I am 100% sure that this will be their biggest exposure ever and all will benefit out of that exchange program.
Have there been any corporate houses that have come forward in aid of your venture? If yes, you could tell us a little bit about their role.
Unfortunately no big sponsor has stepped forward to support us. Financially we are struggling a lot. As there is not much Hockey competition in Rajasthan, we always have to travel far to get competitive opponents to play. Furthermore did I import a second hand sand filled astro turf from Germany in June. Government land and money was there for the ground, but then the citizens of the nearby city Mandawar were filing an objection against me and the hockey ground.
So we had to pull out the turf and store it in our village. There it is lying in rolls and waiting for a private land that we need to buy somewhere near. It is the third astro turf in Rajasthan and we have no space to lay it. It is really a pity and I am very sad as this is taking a good opportunity from us to grow the kids in good hockey skills and technically advanced Hockey. We reached our limits on our little sandy ground which has the size of a D only – so we are desperately looking for a sponsor who can help us out. As we signed up with a big Indian foundation in Jaipur, we are able to start more hockey villages in other parts of the country. The concept is to combine sports and education for underprivileged children.
You have written a few articles in the past. Do you see yourself writing in future on hockey and other related issues?
I love to write – as I come from the tourism industry I was always writing about foreign countries, hotels, destinations. I wrote for travel brochures, I wrote a travel guide book for Bali and I wrote for 2 years for a Spa and Wellness Magazine, testing high end Hotels and Spas. Now I live in a Rajasthan Village and started already my book about my journey to India. Unfortunately my days are quite loaded with work so that I hardly find time to write on the book – we opened our own hockey village India school this July with 130 kids and they are all on my head – but let’s see – one fine day I am sure I will complete the book and as well my journey.