Odisha is in the grip of hockey fever

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With Men’s Wold Cup hockey underway at the Kalinga stadium, there is little else that people want to talk about. While the event has boosted Odia pride and brought the capital city of Bhubaneswar into focus, the enthusiasm in a matter of less than a year is likely to translate into votes for chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and his party.

This city is now a global name, thanks to the organisation of 14th edition of Men’s Hockey World Cup hockey that got off to a roaring start with the gala opening ceremony at the Kalinga stadium, Bhubaneswar on November 27.

Three people were in focus at the glittering ceremony – chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, Bollywood king Shah  Rukh Khan who made an his entry on a chariot and music maestro, AR Rahman who wowed the 15,000-strong crowd with his music.

While it was evident that the chief minister has won the hearts of the people of the state by organising the showcase event in Bhubaneswar (a big roar of approval went up as he asked the audience ‘are you happy’) Khan was all praise for the state as well as for the chief minister who he introduced as someone who used to be the goalkeeper of his school team.  

“I feel humbled and would like to thank all of you for having me here. Sports connects humanity,” said king Khan. Each captain was escorted by a tribal boy on to the stage, a symbolic gesture to show that hockey is deeply rooted in state’s tribal culture. Bollywood diva  Madhuri Dixit set the tone for the World Cup with her “ mother earth”  performance.   

The crowd went into a frenzy with Oscar and Grammy award-winning music composer AR Rahman regaling them with some of his best including the title song ‘Jai Hind Hind, Jai India.’ With Shiamak Davar choreographing, around   1200 artists presented different dance forms including classical, jazz, ballet, Afro, Shastriya, Odissi, Mohiniyattam and Kathak.  Ollywood heart-throbs Sabyasachi and Archita Sahu were also part of the performing team.

If Bhubaneswar has emerged as the new sporting capital of India the credit should go exclusively to chief minister, Naveen Patnai and the few officers handpicked by him. Over the course of the last one and a half years the state capital has played host to a string of international events but hosting the Men’s Hockey World Cup successfully has firmly put Bhubaneswar on the sports map of the world.

Success followed meticulous planning and hard work. For the men who gave it their all it meant burning the candle at both ends. The hectic pace at which the capital city was spruced up and beautified and Kalinga stadium, the venue, was readied, left everyone amazed.

Patnaik, who lives by the motto “we can do it”, personally supervised the preparations making even nocturnal visits to the stadium where heavy duty machinery including giant sized cranes worked round the clock. The workers engaged for the city beautification work worked mainly during the night hours so as not to disturb the day time traffic and cause as little pollution as possible.

The invisible man, who was pulling the wires from behind the scenes and making things happen was chief minister’s private secretary and state’s smartest and most efficient bureaucrat, VK Pandian. A livewire he was issuing directions on behalf of the chief minister and marshalling his resources deftly. The key men he depended on for the successful execution of the task, specially making the state capital ready for the big show was BMC commissioner and BDA vice-chairperson, Krishan Kumar, both dynamic officers who rose to the challenge gallantly.

The task was cut out for each of them. Pandian ensured that Kalinga stadium matched international standards. The journey of the stadium, the third venue in the country to host Men’s Hockey World Cup after Mumbai and New Delhi, has been nothing short of miraculous. The sports complex got the opportunity to host the mega event five years after getting its first hockey turf. Over the years the stadium has also attracted hockey fans in a big way making it one of the most sought after venues for the game in the country.

Construction of a hockey stadium in the sports complex in 2013 proved to be a masterstroke for the state which has produced a number of international hockey players including Dilip Tirkey, Lajarus Barla and Prabodh Tirkey. Before the synthetic turf was laid at the Kalinga Sports Complex, the state has four such turfs all in Sundergarh district, the cradle of hockey in Odisha.

The hockey stadium initially built with a seating capacity of  6000  hosted the state based franchise Kalinga Lancers in the Hockey India League in 2014, the first major event in the sport. The craze for the game and enthusiastic crowds paved the way for other international tournaments. Subsequently the stadium hosted  Champions Trophy in 2014 and Men’s Hockey World League Final in 2017.

“During our playing days we used to be desperate to play in the state but the infrastructure was not adequate for international matches. It was an irony that the state which had nurtured a number of international players could not host even a single international match for years. However within a span of a few years we not only hosted two international tournaments but are the World Cup, the ultimate test in hockey,” said Dilip Tirkey, former Indian captain.

The state government had had to face criticism when it decided to demolish the swimming complex adjacent to the hockey stadium for the construction of two additional galleries for increasing the seating capacity of the stadium to 15000. Besides opposition parties now and again have criticized the government for spending the lion’s share of the sports budget on hockey, ignoring other sports.

State sports minister Chandrasarathi Behera however said that infrastructure boost is the most important part for promotion of sports. “ The sports complex in recent times has hosted the Asian Athletics Championship, matches of Indian Super League and an International rugby tournament. This was only possible due to the infrastructure boost to the sports complex,” he said.    

By hosting the cup Naveen has endeared himself to everyone, especially the youth who would be voting for him overwhelmingly in the 2019 elections. Sports, it seems, can also yield political dividends.

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