The long, turbulent, and at times unlikely path to get a team representing India to the World Club Championships.
July 25, 2022 by Lorcan Murray in Profile with 0 comments
LEBANON, OH — One of the purest joys of World Championships is seeing just how global our sport has grown from its humble pie-dishes-in-a-parking-lot origins. This growth is rarely easy, as travel, costs, and time make accessing the elite echelons a challenge for everywhere, something the pandemic1 has significantly exacerbated. Despite this, community spirit is a difficult thing to extinguish, a reality embodied by the Indian team High Tide and their indomitable orchestrator Raghu Veer.
High Tide are not a club team from India, but rather a pick-up squad initially built to follow up on India’s incredible fifth place finish at World Beach Ultimate Championships (WBUC) 2017 in Royan, France.
“Due to [the] pandemic, Ultimate Players Association of India (UPAI) had told us that they were not putting any national team [forward] for WBUC happening in LA,” explained Raghu Veer. “I was really disappointed myself that India finished world #5 in [the] previous World [Championships] and I was gutted that we will not be representing the country in this tournament.”
Fortunately, the UPAI had no opposition to Raghu creating a pick-up team to represent the growing strength of Indian ultimate and continue their push for a semifinal berth. He enlisted two of India’s most prominent on-field talents Sivaraman Venkatesan and Praveen Kumar along with perennial national team coach Udaya Kumar as selectors. Focusing on picking an elite squad for beach ultimate, most of the team was selected from the Chennai area, with additional players coming from Bangalore and Auroville.
With the squad selected and the goal established they began a dedicated training regimen. Unfortunately, the third time was the harm as just before they met up for their tertiary training weekend the news about WBUC’s fate broke – a full cancellation – almost breaking the team in the process.
“[The] core team was really upset about the news that it got canceled,” said Raghu. “[Until] one of the core members told us, ‘why don’t we try for WUCC?’”
A noble readjustment and welcome opportunity for High Tide, though a poorly timed one, as by then it was 6 months after registration had officially closed. Fortunately for the Indians, WFDF looked kindly upon their plight and granted them a special exception due to WBUC being canceled. A gesture quickly reciprocated by their national governing body.
“[The] UPAI gave us an exception to represent the country even though we had set up a pick-up team,” detailed Raghu. “It was also because of the fact none of the club teams could afford to go to the US because of the funding issues.”
With renewed vigor from their new undertaking, High Tide redoubled their efforts on the training ground. Their efforts bolstered by the wave of support the Indian ultimate community put behind them.
“We were really looking forward to WUCC,” said Raghu. “We had four camps and played a tournament where we won all the games. We had close to five injuries in the team including myself.2 We had to replace a few players and keep adjusting the team regularly as it became such a long campaign.”
After seven months of vigorous training, the squad was shaping up and peaking at just the right time to continue building the growing reputation of Indian ultimate on the world stage.
This is where the story gets sad. Despite the best efforts of the club organizers, many of the Indian players planning to come to the US couldn’t resolve VISA issues in time to make the trip.
“We waited until July 6th positively but then there was no update and the [next available] appointment was open only from September,” said Raghu. “I was really devastated and I really wanted to bring an Indian team to WUCC. I had made it happen for my previous club, Stall7, which represented [India] in 2018.”
This blow came as a double whammy for the team as they had gone above and beyond to raise the necessary funds for their trip stateside. Pulling out of the tournament was not only a massive blow to their hearts, but also their wallets.
“I decided to withdraw from the team and reached out to WFDF for a refund,” explained Raghu. “They told us it’s very unlikely to get us a refund.
“$10000 was such a huge [amount of money] for my team. We had a lot of players from underprivileged backgrounds and this money can be so valuable. I felt really bad, guilty that I couldn’t even take the team to WUCC after seven months of rigorous training and after paying such high registration money.”
Never one to accept defeat when it is offered to him, Raghu took stock of his circumstances and plotted a new course to Cincinnati.
“I decided to reach out to the members from the Indian community who [already] had US visas,” explained Raghu. “Most of them didn’t want to go as this was very expensive to plan just 16 days before the tournament.
“Then I decided to reach out to all the Indians who live in the US, UK, and Europe. Then [the] UPAI also told us we could have players from other countries to form this team.”
It is no easy feat to orchestrate an international endeavor on this scale, especially considering the differences in time zones! But Raghu had come too far to be turned back at this late stage of the game.3 Fortunately, his plight reached the hearts of many people throughout our community and after one of the more harrowing weeks of his life, Raghu had pulled together a team who could hit the fields on July 24.
“I’m really happy that I could make this happen,” said Raghu. “We got an amazing coach who is highly experienced in the USA, [in] Melissa Witmer. We even got our jerseys printed [in time]!4
“I’d like [a] special mention to Shamit, Aakar, Mallory, Rahul, and Rica for all the support, who helped me to make this happen.”
Where there is a will, there is a way, though it may be sequitous and beset on all sides by the inequities of circumstance and the tyranny of exchange rates. Through sheer determination, and with some help from ultimate communities at home and abroad, High Tide have risen.
“[The] ultimate frisbee community is amazing,” concluded Raghu. “This was only possible because everybody came together at the right time to help me.”
The bad kind of global expansion ↩
Raghu had two minor surgeries during the preparation for the tournament! ↩
Remember, this was literally two weeks ago. ↩
Shout out to Zone Ultimate who delivered the goods in just 10 days. ↩