rissa put up a spectacular show 27 November, 2018 to mark commencement of the Men’s Hockey World Cup. Oriyas have historically been a non outdoorsy, non sporty race. It is not difficult to imagine that in the period probably before Christ, this race must have been physically fit to sail the oceans as far away as Bali and beyond. The probability seems high that our ancestors had great health because the average working farmer in rural Orissa even today possesses abs and sinewy muscles that would be the envy of most gym goers. Sadly, the semi urban populace in Orissa, especially the youth, have irrevocably opted for sedentary lifestyles. The consequence is high medical bills which not only invite further poverty but damages the GDP of any nation simply due to loss of man days.
Fortunately for Orissa, this Hockey World Cup has successfully injected a heavy dose of sport fever that had been rather invisible for ages. We should be aware that a World Cup does not come to take place in a venue unless that location has built a name for itself in that particular field. Kudos to the state government and certain bureaucrats, in particular, who have painstakingly built Orissa’s, especially Bhubaneswar’s, name as a very viable hockey and athletics destination. One remembers the Champions Trophy in 2014, Hockey World League Finals in 2017, Asian Athletics Championship in 2017 leading up to this World Cup. These precursors helped in establishing Bhubaneswar’s credentials as a sports city. While the work that goes into creating a world brand for a particular product is arduous, yet the government, that too in a so-called backward state as Orissa, has demonstrated commendable achievements.
Of course, there are always faults that could have easily been taken care of. Whenever such big events take place, careless handling can make the best broth tasteless. The best example is the delay of over 20 minutes from the printed commencement timing and multiple gaps in the continuity of the programme from the outset. Another very objectionable part was when a lady radio jockey tried to encourage the crowd to scream INDIA after questioning who should win the trophy in Hindi. That these people performing on stage have not been briefed about something as vital as sportsman spirit in an international event was evident. One is reminded of the 2014 Federation of International Hockey Champions Trophy match between India and Pakistan 13 December, 2014. Those who had watched and can recollect that last match would remember how well, in a very synchronised manner, the Pakistan team played against a comparatively tame Indian side which was behind from the beginning of the match. Sadly, however, the Bhubaneswar crowd had jeered at the Pakistan players who also made vulgar gestures which led to reprimands and bad publicity for that country’s players. While the players were punished for their immature behaviour, the crowd was never even condemned for uncivil jeering, grounded on a false sense of patriotism. With this background, it was very important that all those who went on stage should have been briefed to repeat again and again that from this moment of inauguration till the end of the final game, the Kalinga Stadium has turned into a neutral sports ground. Every team is to be dealt with a true spirit of sportsmanship. India is but one team. The crowd should have been taught to cheer every winner and every loser.
On the other hand, special mention should be made about movie star Shah Rukh Khan’s considerate approach in not assuming that Hindi is an international language. By translating his speech to English himself, he demonstrated a flexibility that is so required in such events. Orissa has opened a grand new chapter for sports in general and hockey in particular. The city of Bhubaneswar would eventually have to match up in terms of infrastructure, accommodation and other facilities. At the same time, Oriyas will need to keep up with sportsman spirit and a better games mindset. The mission would seem accomplished if children dreaming of a future in sports will not be discouraged by parents hoping for more conventional careers for their wards. Like Jamaica, a so-called small country with a big sports culture which has produced greats like Usain Bolt, Oriyas could, with the right mindset, sprint ahead and make India proud.
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