BHUBANESWAR: When history writes the new chapter on Indian hockey’s return to glory with Tokyo Olympics 2020, the name of Odisha and its Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will be written in boldest letters. Naveen and his government dared to tread a path not taken, and how! In 2018, just before hosting the Men’s Hockey World Cup, Naveen left the sports fraternity in India surprised by announcing Odisha government’s decision to sponsor the national hockey teams at an estimated Rs 150 crore support over five years.
A State sponsoring sports teams was unheard of. He did that when Sahara had backed out leaving Hockey India and the teams in the lurch. For a man who played hockey as a goalkeeper in Doon School, Naveen had done what was to be done to protect the game that had given India eight gold medals in Olympics. The rest, as they say, is history - etched in a bronze medal.
Odisha’s tryst with international hockey started in 2014 when its Capital city played host to Champions Trophy hockey and showed potential for bigger things to come. It was then the only State which had its own professional hockey club team - Kalinga Lancers. It successfully organised one of hockey’s biggest events, the Hockey World League final during December 2017. Despite rains affecting the matches, hundreds of spectators braved the downpour to watch the matches.
Then came Hockey Men’s World Cup in 2018 when top 16 nations battled it out for the coveted cup. The State government was ready - it had spent around `100 crore, built a new Hockey Complex for the World Cup. Bhubaneswar went through a makeover. Hockey shadowed cricket and Naveen had created a legacy that included FIH Men’s Series Finals, Olympic Hockey Qualifiers 2019 and FIH Pro League in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is now set to host the 2023 edition of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup which will be played at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. The government is building the country’s biggest hockey stadium with an estimated Rs 120 crore at Rourkela with a seating capacity for 20,000 spectators. “To enable young hockey players practise on astro-turf at an early age, the State is also constructing 20 hockey training centres at a cost of Rs 200 crore. A professional coaching programme at the grassroots will ensure that a large number of children take up hockey as a career,” said Sports Secretary R Vineel Krishna.
The State has a network of sports hostels providing hockey coaching to hundreds of students many of whom have represented India at international level. A High Performance Centre in partnership with Tata Group has been operational at Kalinga Stadium for last two years. In the coming years, a large number of national players will emerge from the HPC. “It is the CM’s vision which is bearing fruit. With these initiatives, Odisha and India can produce great hockey players. Odisha will continue to partner with Hockey India and support the Indian hockey teams,” said Krishna.