by Sudipta Biswas
When hockey, the first Indian sport which caught the imagination of the sports fans of this country, has been struggling to regain its lost glory in the Indian subcontinent, the temple city – Bhuvneshwar- hosted 10 international sporting events in the previous four years.
When Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik unveiled a mega five-year deal with Hockey India at a gala event in New Delhi, everybody was left surprised. In the history of sports, this was probably the first occasion when a state government was seen not just promoting the sport within its ambit, but also supporting and nurturing the national hockey team-both men and women.
While signing the contract with Hockey India (HI), the CM Patnaik said, â€œHockey in Odisha is more than a sport. Itâ€™s a way of life, especially in our tribal regions, where children learn to walk with hockey sticks. The support for hockey by Odisha is a gift to the nation.â€� The state government committed to spending INR 120 crore on hockey for a five-year period, with 20 crores in 2018, with annual escalation of nine per cent from 2019. The fund will be provided by the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), a profit-making PSU, sponsor of events that would be played at Kalinga Stadium over the five years.
Rise of sporting capital
Having observed the developments and growths of hockey in Odisha, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra coined the idea of naming Bhuvneshwar- the sports capital of India, in the lines of financial capital â€“Mumbai and IT capital- Bengaluru.
When hockey, the first Indian sport which caught the imagination of the sports fans of this country, has been struggling to regain its lost glory in the Indian subcontinent, the temple city- Bhuvneshwar- hosted 10 international sporting events in the previous four years. Odishaâ€™s love with international hockey was born in 2014 when they successfully hosted the Champions Trophy hockey tournament that helped the state government, HI and International Hockey Federation (IHF) to explore the cityâ€™s facilities and the potential to organise such marquee tournaments.
Two years later, Odisha formed the Kalinga Lancers hockey team that won the Indian Hockey League in January 2016. In the meantime, the state government made sure they got the right to host Hockey World League finals in December 2017. Fans hit the stadium in a large number, even during the heavy downpour. Odishaâ€™s wish to turn its Bhuvneshwar into the sports capital of India got a lift when they earned the right to hosts 2018 World Cup that was played between November 28 and December 16. Belgium crowned the new champions of the quadrennial event in a gala finale of the marquee event.
But, this is not only about hockey, but also about other sports which are well received in Bhuvneshwar. The state government paved the way for other sporting events to be held in the state. When the CM Patnaik found Indian Super League (ISL) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) matches, hosted in Bhuvneshwar, received good support from the crowd, he expressed his wish to host a David Cup tie at Kalinga Stadium in near future. The city also hosted All India Football Federationâ€™s maiden Super Cup final.
Kalinga Stadium – the facelift
Taking cue of stateâ€™s successful attempts in hosting these tournaments and facilities and infrastructure are at existence, continental athletics governing body- Asian Athletics Association- didnâ€™t hesitate to give the right to the state to host Asian U-19 Girls Championships.
In 2017, Biju Janata Dal (BJD)-led state government successfully hosted 22nd Asian Athletics Championships where 700 athletes from 42 countries participated. To host the event smoothly, the state government built a 2,600 sq metre lounge for the athletes. Alongside it, three lakhs sq fit of grass turfing and two lakh sq ft of tiles were laid out and 15.5 sq ft of surface painting was done in just three months. The nerve point of the 2018 Hockey World Cup – Kalinga Stadium – was given a facelift as well. It would not be out of place to say that the stadium is now among the bests in the world.
But, why was the sport given so much importance in the state which was once known for starvation and natural calamities? The CM feels sports are key components in socio-economic developments as its impact on the society is multi-dimensional.
‘Investing in sports is investing in future’
â€œInvestment in sports is an investment in youth and investment in youth is an investment in future. See how Seoul was transformed after the Asian Games and Olympics and Beijing after the Olympics. Their economy and standing in the world have changed,â€� Patnaik said. It is important to engage youths with creative activities and there is no alternative to sports at all- which is followed by millions in the state. He believes sports will take brand Odisha to a new height.
Apart from boosting hockey, the state government determined to produce athletes from other genres of sports. The sports ministry of the state set a two-pronged strategy in order to produce champions in the field of athletics, weightlifting, badminton, football, archery and hockey.
There is a take and give mindset amidst the state government. The concerned people of the sports ministry want to ride on sports in order to present the Odisha as a brand before the world. Their constructive impression to the sports also helped the former acquiring outstanding infrastructure and a platform where youths can think about taking up a sport as a sustainable profession.
Of late, Bhuvneshwar emerged as the major destination for sports on the world map. In 2018, the budget for the development of sports in the state has been three times the previous yearâ€™s budget of 120 crores. As many more international events are lined up, the state government, enriched with minerals, offered its helping hand to the sports will aid to present itself as a brand before the global community.
Eventually, the existent sports eco-system in the state inspired global sports governing bodies to embrace it with both hands. It eventually helped Odisha to present them as a state where sports and socio-economic development flourish together.
Odisha is in image building mood in order to bring global brands in the state. This is a matter of mutual respect; the stakeholders should take a joyful ride on it in their quest to prosperity.
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Source: Matchday Frolics