Bhubaneswar: Today, if someone talks about sports especially hockey in India, perhaps he/she will not forget to mention Odisha because the eastern state has been emerging as a sports hub of the country. Many people have also started calling Bhubaneswar as the sports capital of India.
A decade ago, people outside Odisha only knew about athletes only when it came to sports, and, at maximum, people know about the Barabati Stadium, where few international cricket matches were hosted.
Though the Kalinga Stadium was there in Bhubaneswar, people were not aware of that because the platform was confined to the training of local athletes. But, now, this stadium has become a centre of excellence for the country’s sports personalities.
At the same time, the state government has also substantially increased its funding towards sports. It had allocated nearly Rs 100 crore in its annual budget for 2016-17, which has increased to Rs 301 crore in 2020-21. This year (2021-22), Rs 400 crore has been allocated to the sector. Apart from the budgetary allocation, the infrastructures developments are being taken up on funding from other departments and agencies.
Naveen Patnaik, 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 a sports hub or the sports capital did not happen overnight, but a strong effort was made over a period of seven to eight years.
The state government under leadership of Patnaik gave priority to the sports sector in the year 2013 it franchised its own hockey team, the Kalinga Lancers, for the Hockey India League. At the time, the state felt is necessary to have a world-class hockey facility to host the Kalinga Lancers’ matches in the Hockey India League.
Since then, the state government never looked back when it comes to sports. The state had successfully hosted many national and international sporting 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Just three months before the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships, the Jharkhand government had withdrawn from its assurance to host the event. It was Odisha, which came forward and successfully organised the mega sporting event taking it as a 90 days challenge. The state has earned praise from various quarters for making the event very successful.
Similarly in 2018 when Sahara backed out from sponsoring the Indian hockey teams, it was the Odisha government that announced to sponsor both men’s and women’s teams for a period of five year. Recently, the state announced to sponsor both the teams for another 10 years.
These are the two examples, which show how much the importance the Patnaik government is giving to sports.
The state has also organised 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 places of Odisha.
In 2018, 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 a hub of high performance centres.
Odisha has also set up 16 sports hostels in 15 districts, and each of them runs training and coaching programme in multiple sports curriculum for around 1,250 budding talent who are identified and selected from a state-wide talent identification programme, especially conducted in 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 that 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 of land.
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 crores, he said.
Recently, the Odisha Cabinet approved the construction of 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums at a total project cost of Rs 693.35 crore to be completed over the next 18 months, Behera said.
“The stadiums will have facilities for playing 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, yoga, while the leading Odia 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 only, but also it is giving emphasis to others sports also. 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 the budding athletes for early recovery of any injury, she said.