7,000 Indian students and schoolchildren greet Wales Hockey team ahead of World Cup clash
More than 7,000 Indian students and schoolchildren greeted the Wales international men's hockey team ahead of a clash between the nations in the Hockey World Cup 2023.
Players and coaches from the Wales squad visited KiiT International School in the Bhubaneshwar area on the eastern coast of India for a tour on Tuesday.
Wales take on India in their final Hockey World Cup pool game at 1:30pm GMT on 19 January.
The school visit was coordinated by Study in Wales, a project that aims to promote Wales on the world stage as an education destination.
"The purpose of our visit was to shine a spotlight on our players and raise their profile, at the same time experiencing India’s culture", Hockey Wales CEO, Ria Burrage-Male told me.
"The Indian community is incredibly warm and hospitable. The reception we received by the children and staff at the school was incredible and one, I am sure, none of us will forget".
Forty schools from the local area joined the Wales squad on the hockey pitch at the KiiT school, where the players did some drills and exercises with the students.
There are currently around 3,000 Indian students at university in Wales, a number that jumped by 200% in just the last year.
"India is one of our priority markets and that is why this was such a great opportunity" Laura Fergusson tells me over the phone from the Indian sub-continent, "but really we're feeding into that desire for Wales to be seen as an outward looking nation".
Laura is part of the Study in Wales team out in India as part of their sponsorship of the tournament.
"It is early days but people are definitely noticing us and I feel like momentum is building", Laura said.
On a sporting level though, Wales have struggled at this year's world cup, but given their tough pool, this was perhaps to be expected. Wales lost 5-0 to nearest neighbours England in their opening game, and then 5-1 to Spain in their last match.
"I think we've got the worst pool", Ria says. "England and Spain are in the top ten nations and we don't get a chance to play those sort of nations very often. We have to be pragmatic and realistic about the pool that we're in.
"If we get a result against India tomorrow night, that will be tremendous. But if we don't then we're playing for the bottom 8 places - and that's probably about where we are".
Wales men are currently ranked 15th in the world for hockey.
"We're one of the only teams here that are part time with athletes studying and working, some are taking unpaid leave and when you reflect on this, I think it's fairly realistic for us".