Legacy of the sporting state
Odisha — the name that now springs up parallelly with India’s outstanding performance in hockey in Tokyo — has successfully blended its deep-rooted sporting culture with high-end infrastructure
If Odisha and hockey have become synonymous today, it is due to the efforts of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. For a state with a rich cultural history, sport has never lagged behind.
After the highs of the Tokyo Olympics, where the men's hockey team won a historic bronze medal after a gap of 41 years, the women's team too was not to be left behind. The team led by Rani Rampal showed courage and mettle to finish fourth.
So, did Odisha suddenly become a sporting state? The answer is a no. For those who have followed the exploits of Indian hockey in the last four decades, hockey has been extremely popular in this state. In fact, India's best defender in the years gone by was Dilip Tirkey.
Now a sitting Member of Parliament, Tirkey was known for his dribbling skills and for tackling forwards of the rival teams with great deftness and skill. Today, Dilip
Tirkey, who still goes to the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar for his own fitness, is happy that the next generation has lived up to the faith.
Frankly speaking, as a state, Odisha may give an impression of being laid back. However, the work which has been done in creating sporting infrastructure in its capital city has been outstanding. Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium is modern and has hosted elite competitions in hockey as well as athletics.
It is not just the hockey players like Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo, Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas who are well known names from Odisha. Sprinter Dutee Chand, too, hails from this state and trains at the Kalinga Stadium.
There are many who wonder if Bhubaneswar is the right city, geographically, to host sports training sessions. The heat is high and so is the humidity. However, none complained about it when the Asian Athletics Meet was held here four years ago.
As regards to hockey, the Kalinga Stadium has hosted the FIH World Cup in 2018 with great success. All the teams which came to Bhubaneswar were extremely happy with the playing conditions and facilities. That is something which even Delhi cannot boast of — as the National Stadium in the Capital now houses more government offices. The advantage with the Kalinga Stadium is its neat layout and hotels located nearby.
The same venue has hosted the Olympics qualifiers as well. Next up for Bhubaneswar and the brand-new stadium in Rourkela will be the 2023 FIH World Cup. It's a dream project of the state government and Naveen Patnaik as they want to showcase how Odisha can mesh sports and culture.
The state does not treat expenditure incurred on building sports infrastructure as a waste. The plan is, in coming years, to make Odisha a sporting state and a role model. The Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela is being built at an estimated cost of Rs 112 crores.
The state-of-the-art structure with 20,000 seating capacity will offer an unparalleled sporting experience for spectators during the 2023 World Cup. "The stadium along with the allied facilities will be a benchmark for other hockey stadiums around the world," said a spokesperson of the Odisha government.
Another 20 hockey training centres are being developed at a cost of Rs 200 crores in the state. Of these, 17 are in Sundargarh, the cradle of hockey in Odisha, and the other three are in Sambalpur and Ganjam districts.
For the time being, Odisha is celebrating not just its own hockey stars but also players from other states. To be loosening their purse strings for all players is a sign of their magnanimity.
Views expressed are personal