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From Barabati to Kalinga: The transformation of Odisha into the ‘Sporting Capital’ of India

The Barabati Stadium in Cuttack

There was a time when Odisha had to wait for a cricket match to happen at the Barabati Stadium. The iconic Barabati in Cuttack, established in 1958, hosted its first international Cricket match in January 1982. But till date, only 20 ODIs, 2 Test Matches and 2 T20Is have taken place over there. Thus the people of Odisha had to stay content with those matches only, in spite of having a deep sense of ‘sport’ in them.

But things seem to be totally different now as through the past three decades there has been a sporting revolution in the state. Odisha is now the proud host of the Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy in 2014, Asian Athletics Championship in 2017, the Hockey World League Final play out in 2017 and the Hockey World Cup in 2018. The Odisha government has thrown all its weight behind certain sports like Athletics, Hockey, Weightlifting, Football, Archery and also supported the most marginalised and oppressed groups to come to the forefront.

Rural Mini Stadium

This gripping sports fever, that has become a paradigm before other Indian states, has its root in the Odisha Sports Hostel programme that commenced in 1985 and is successfully running even today. In this programme, scouting in rural areas starts at the ‘gram panchayat’ level among students aged between 10-14 years. Selected students are sent to one of the many hostels, across 15 districts, depending on the sport and their location. Odisha’s rural area has more than 300 ‘Rural Mini Stadium’ where there may be minimal sporting requirements but at least the players have a gated and walled space with trimmed grass where coaching, training, matches and tournaments are organised.

And this has led to the steady success of Odisis in national and international events.  Rachita Panda Mistry- who represented India along with P.T. Usha in 1998 Asian Games and Anuradha Biswal- the Hurdle Queen, led the way for the present bunch of athletes comprising of Duttee Chand, Purnima Hembram, Srabani Nanda, Jauna Murmu and others. Odisha is well represented by some very talented weightlifters among whom Katalu Ravi Kumar stands out. The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ravi Kumar, represented India in the 2012 London Olympics. Recently Sneha Soren and Jhilli Dalabehera won gold medal each in the Commonwealth and Oceania Championships in 2017. There are also upcoming Chess players like Padmini Rout, Aparajita Gochhikar and Saina Salonika.

But the sport in which Odisha has sent a steady stream of national players is Hockey. The state has produced great players including Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey and Lazarus Barla. The current Indian team also have the likes of Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas and Deepsan Tirkey. Lilima Minz, Namita Toppo, Deep Grace Ekka, Sunita Lakra and Rashmita Minz were part of the hockey team that won the women’s Asia Cup in Japan in 2017. The reason for this flurry of national-level players is mainly due to the fact that the tribal regions of the state live and breathe Hockey. Almost every other kid in the tribal districts of Odisha play the game.

The Kalinga Lancers

The state government has always backed the growth of Hockey. It has not only bred new players but also took calculative risks by organising the 2014 Hockey Champions Trophy and then owning a team in Hockey India League (HIL). The Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) and Mahanadi Coalfield Limited combined to form Kalinga Lancers that has become the only franchise-based team in India owned by a state government. After their initial hiccups in the first two seasons, the Dilip Turkey-mentored side showed their prowess in the 2017 edition when they came out as Runners-Up. But the best was in store for the next edition and that was proved when they emerged Champion in 2017.

The unveiling of team jersey

After winning the bid for organising the Hockey World Cup 2018, Odisha nurtured several thoughts to make it a grand success. The state sports ministry, with the involvement of Chief Minister Navin Patnaik, continuously supported Hockey India and Narinder Batra, the FIH and IOA President, in implementing schemes for the game. But the high point was when the state government announced to become the new sponsor of Indian Hockey team for the next five years. This path-breaking decision clearly led the way for Odisha emerging as the revolutionary sporting state of India. To quote Narinder Batra, “Like Delhi is the capital of India, Bombay the financial capital of the country, Bengaluru IT capital, for me Bhubaneswar is the Sports Capital of the Country.”

The logo on the Indian national hockey team jersey is a summation of Odisha where we will find the Konark Wheel, the famous coastline, endangered Olive Ridley Turtles, Odissi Dance and definitely, Hockey. Clearly, it states that how intelligently Odisha is promoting tourism through sports. Top-level sporting events always increase the profile and the profit of a region. Interestingly, Odisha registered a Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth rate of 7.94 per cent in 2016-17 against the national average of 7.1 per cent. It also has an enviable decreased rate in poverty level.

Kalinga Stadium

And now Odisha has one more tourist attraction added to their beaches and temples. The Kalinga Stadium, which was once in a depleted state with a skeletal frame devoid of any tracks, got a ground-breaking facelift at the onset of the Asian Athletic Championship in 2017. After Jharkhand pulled out from hosting the Championships at the eleventh hour, Odisha took up 90-day challenge to get ready for the international meet. Synthetic tracks were laid, warm-up area was constructed, 5000 new seats were put up, grass turfing in and around the stadium was done, innumerable of tiles were laid, 15.5 lakh sq ft of surface painting ws completed and floodlights were installed at various points. The opening ceremony saw a floodlit stadium packed with 15,000 spectators dancing to the music of composer Shankar Mahadevan. It was an occasion that took Odisha to a global platform. The Championship saw a participation of 700 athletes from 42 Asian countries.

Chief Minister at the MoU singing event

Now, to keep along with the pace, it is time for further planning and implementation. Odisha is already planning to organise the Davis Cup and the Sun-and-Sand Marathon at Konark. The Sports and Youth Services Department of Odisha inked pacts with corporate houses to set up 10 high performance centres in various sport disciplines. The signing of the MoU was attended by eminent sportsperson like former India Cricket team captain Anil Kumble, Indian shuttler and coach Pullela Gopichand and shooter Gagan Narang. The centres to be set up include Athletics by the Reliance Industries Group, Football and Swimming by the JSW Group, Badminton by the Dalmia Bharat Group and Pulella Gopichand Badminton Academy, Weightlifting by the Ahluwalia Group with TENVIC Sports( Anil Kumble), Shooting by the Aditya Birla Group with Gagang Narang Sports Promotion Foundation and Hockey by the Tata Group. Besides, the state government also signed MoU with Xavier-Emlyon Business School to set up a high performance centre for sports management. Similarly Rungta Mines Ltd and Abhinav Futuristic Pvt Ltd will set up an advanced medical rehabilitation centre here.

By coming into agreement with these top notch companies, Odisha wants to build a framework which will work towards sporting education, talent identification at grass root levels and infrastructural development at a global level.

About Poulomi Kundu

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