Welcome to Bhubaneswar, India’s sports capital

The Odisha government’s pathbreaking deal with Hockey India is without precedent in the Indian sporting scene.

Published: 25th November 2018 04:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th November 2018 04:27 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

The Odisha government’s pathbreaking deal with Hockey India is without precedent in the Indian sporting scene.When Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced the mega deal with Hockey India at a gala event in New Delhi early this year, everybody was taken by surprise. This is probably the first occasion when a state government will not just be promoting a sport within its boundaries, but will also be supporting and nurturing the national hockey teams — both men and women.

“Hockey in Odisha is more than a sport. It’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,” the CM said.The state government will pay `120 crore in five years (`20 crore this year with an annual escalation of nine per cent from 2019) for the sponsorship deal being funded by Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), a profit-making state PSU.

President of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and Indian Olympic Association (IOA), Narinder Dhruv Batra, was effusive in his praise. “Delhi is the capital of India and Mumbai is its financial capital. Bengaluru is the IT capital. For me, Bhubaneswar is the sports capital. Kalinga Stadium, which is hosting the World Cup in November, has come up so well that it can be rated one among the top five stadiums in the world,” he said.

In fact, the city has organised at least 10 national and international sporting events in the last four years. The state’s flirtation with international hockey started in 2014 when Bhubaneswar played host to the Champions Trophy hockey tournament that left the hockey officialdom much impressed about the city’s facilities and potential to hold events of such magnitude. 

In 2016, Odisha formed the Kalinga Lancers hockey team that won the Hockey India League in January last year. The state had also successfully organised one of hockey’s biggest events, the Hockey World League final during December 1 to 10, 2017. Despite rains affecting the matches, thousands of spectators braved the downpour to turn up at the Kalinga stadium. The final act of this run is the FIH World Cup between November 28 and December 16 where 16 teams will slug it out for the coveted cup. 

Apart from hockey, the success of Hero Indian Super League (ISL) football matches and International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament held in March, prompted the Chief Minister to reveal his dream of hosting a Davis Cup tie at the Kalinga Stadium. After being impressed by the arrangements during the ISL, the All India Football Federation hosted the inaugural edition of the Super Cup here. The city also played host to the Asian under-18 Girls Championships.

Last year, Odisha successfully hosted the 22nd Asian Athletics Championship where around 700 athletes from 42 Asian countries participated. In just three months, 2,600 sq metres of newly-designed structures for athlete lounge were built, about three lakh sq ft of grass turfing and two lakh sq ft of tiles were laid and 15.5 lakh sq ft of surface painting was completed. The Kalinga Stadium was given a facelift.

But why sports was given so much importance in a state, which was once known for starvation and natural calamities? The Chief Minister feels sports is an important component of socio-economic development as its impact on economy and society is multi-dimensional.

Investment in future
“Investment 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. Youth in the state are gifted and talented. We want Odisha to set a benchmark in global sports arena and I hope it will take the state to the next level,” Naveen Patnaik said.

It’s not just hockey, Odisha has been following a two-pronged strategy to churn out champions in athletics, archery, weightlifting, badminton, hockey and football. Of late, Bhubaneswar has emerged as a major sports destination on the world map. This year, the budget for development of sports and infrastructure has been three times the previous year’s budget of `120 crore. With a number of international hockey tournaments lined up, the state government believes its sponsorship will present Odisha as a brand before a global audience.

Sports Director R Vineel Krishna said that since India will be playing at least ten major tournaments during the five-year period, there is a great opportunity to project the potential of Odisha internationally.  “The sponsorship is applicable for both men’s and women’s teams besides the junior boys and girls teams. One can imagine the importance of the brand image we can create for the state. We hope the hockey World Cup and events planned during the period will provide visitors a unique experience,” Krishna, who is also managing director of OMC, said.

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