By Biswa Bhusan Mohapatra
Bhubaneswar, Sep 5 (IANS) Today, if someone talks about sports especially hockey in India, perhaps he/she will not forget to mention Odisha because the eastern state of the country has been emerging as a sports hub. In fact, people have started calling Bhubaneswar as the sports capital of India.
A decade ago, the Barabati Stadium — the main cricketing centre in Odisha where a few international matches have been hosted — was the only sports venue recognised by people outside the state. Not to forget some hockey players of yesteryears who kept coming from remote areas of the state, making a name for themselves on the international stage.
Though the Kalinga Stadium was there in Bhubaneswar, people were not aware of it because the platform was confined to the training of local athletes. But, now, the stadium has become a centre of excellence for sports personalities in India.
The state government has also substantially increased its funding towards sports. The state had allocated nearly Rs 100 crore in its annual budget for 2016/17, which was increased to Rs 301 crore in 2020/21. This year (2021/22), Rs 400 crore has been allocated to sports. Apart from the budgetary allocation, infrastructures developments are being taken up on funding basis from other departments and agencies.
The chief minister of Odisha had rightly said, “Investment in sports is an investment in youth. Investment in youth is an investment in the future.”
The growth of Odisha as sports hub or sports capital did not happen overnight, but a strong effort was made over a period of 7-8 years.
The state government under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been giving priority to the sports sector since 2013, when the state had franchised its own hockey team, Kalinga Lancers, for the Hockey India League. At that time, the state felt it necessary to have a world-class hockey facility to host the Kalinga Lancers’ matches in the Hockey India League.
Since then, the state government has never looked back when it has come to sports. The state has successfully hosted several national and international events in hockey, athletics, women’s football, rugby and table tennis.
In 2014, Bhubaneswar conducted the Hockey Champions Trophy. In 2015, the Indo-Japan Hockey series was organised in Bhubaneswar. Later in 2017, the final of FIH Hockey World League was conducted.
Just three months before the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships, the Jharkhand government had withdrawn its assurance to host the event. It was Odisha, which come forward and successfully organised the mega sporting event, taking it as a 90-day challenge. The state has earned praise from various quarters for making the event very successful.
Similarly, in 2018, when Sahara backed out of sponsoring the Indian hockey teams, it was the Odisha government that announced it would sponsor both the men’s and women’s teams for a period of five year. Recently, the state has announced to sponsors both the teams for another 10 years.
These are a few examples which show how much importance the Patnaik government is giving to sports.
The state has also organised the Men’s Hockey World League-2017, Hockey World Cup-2018, FIH Hockey Pro-League-2020, FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers for Men and Women-2019 and Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship-2019.
In the meantime, the state government has taken up several sports infrastructure projects in various districts of Odisha.
In 2018, the Odisha government had announced the establishment and setting up of 11 High-Performance Centres (HPCs) in 10 sports disciplines with the aim to develop elite athletes and strengthen the sporting landscape in the state.
Currently, the state has high-performance centres in weightlifting, swimming, shooting, football, hockey, sports climbing, athletics and sports science along with a centre of excellence in sports management. Odisha has become the only state in India to set up high-performance centre hub.
The state has also set up 16 sports hostels in 15 districts, and each of them runs training and coaching programmes in multiple sports curriculum for around 1,250 budding talent.
A state-wide talent-identification programme is conducted in the interior pockets with support from gram panchayat and block officials, coaches and talent-spotters, associations and District Sports Officers. There is a strong talent pathway for athletes into the high-performance centres too.
Speaking about other sports infrastructure projects being taken up by the state, Odisha Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera said, Bhubaneswar already has the iconic Kalinga hockey stadium with about 15,000 seating capacity, while the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium at Rourkela in Sundergarh district is being developed at an estimated cost of Rs 112 crore over 15 acres.
The Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 will be hosted in both Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. The government is also setting up another 20 hockey training centres at different places at a cost of Rs 200 crore, he said.
Recently, the Odisha Cabinet has approved the construction of 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums at a total project cost of Rs 693.35 crores to be completed over the next 18 months, Behera said.
“The stadiums will have facilities for badminton, table tennis, yoga, gymnasium, etc. The indoor hall space can be utilised for most of the indoor games and can be converted as per the local popularity of various indoor sports,” the minister further said.
Odisha has a rich talent pool and the Sports and Youth Services Department conducts state-level training camps for under-18 athletes for Khelo India Youth Games and National Championships. Currently, the training camps are ongoing for weightlifting, kho-kho, judo and yoga, while the leading Odisha gymnasts are being provided support at their training centre. The training camps for mallakhamb and cycling will commence soon, he added.
“The state has not only given priority to hockey, it is also giving emphasis to others sports. Recently, the state has decided to set up indoor stadiums in the urban areas, which will encourage youths towards sports,” said sprinter Dutee Chand. The high-performance centres will also help budding athletes recover quickly from injuries, she said.
Former hockey Olympian Lazarus Barla said, “The state has taken a lot of steps for the development of various sport. The move to set up an international hockey stadium and hockey training centres in 17 blocks of Sundergarh district will give a boost for hockey in Odisha.”
He suggested that the state needs to give some more emphasis to promoting sports at the school level to produce international-standard athletes in the near future.
Odisha hockey promotion council chairman Dilip Tirkey said the state has come a long way when it comes to hockey. The state government has been sponsoring hockey teams since 2018. Now, the government is also giving emphasis to other sports, for which indoor stadiums are being constructed in across the state, Tirkey stated.