Indians’ yearning for a medal in the sport that we had proudly dominated for a large part of the 1900s was finally quenched when the men’s hockey team bagged a prestigious bronze medal and the women’s team just narrowly missed out on silverware after putting up an uber-resilient display at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
While an overwhelming chunk of credit must undoubtedly go to the respective teams for having worked so tirelessly to be able to put India on the global hockey map again, it has been vastly acknowledged that this laudable feat could not have been attained without Odisha’s remarkable contribution at various levels.
Yes, some of the most crucial players on both the men’s and women’s team belong to the state, but very importantly, had it not been for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his government’s timely intervention in 2018, we may not have had the opportunity to hold our heads as high today as we do. When Indian Hockey had no sponsors after 2017, the Odisha Government stepped up in 2018 to sign a deal with Indian Hockey of Rs. 150 Crores, more than three times the previous deal which entailed around Rs 42.5 Crores.
Since then, Odisha has hosted some major international hockey events such as the Hockey World League, Men’s Hockey World Cup, FIH Men’s Series Finals, Olympic Hockey Qualifiers and even the FIH Pro League in 2020 and some major tournaments such as the 2023 World Cup are lined up too. Moreover, the Chief Minister has taken leaps towards strengthening the foundation of Indian Hockey through tremendous grassroots efforts.
The High-Performance Hockey Centre in Sundargarh and the constructional commencement of the country’s biggest hockey stadium with a seating capacity of 20,000 in Rourkela bear testimony to the same. To further solidify the hockey ecosystem, the government is planning to lay state of the art ‘Astro Turf’ in each of the 17 blocks of the Sundargarh district, which has produced some of the best players of the state.
The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar has been developed into an international standard facility for hockey players to train and play matches. The State Cabinet, headed by the Chief Minister has also approved the proposal to construct 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums at different urban areas across the state with a humongous investment of Rs. 693.35 Crores under the much talked about 5T model of governance. All of these initiatives by Mr. Patnaik have facilitated the process of turning Odisha into the Sports Capital of India as it is known today.
But, this is not just about everything that has been done so far and the tangible outcomes that this has fetched. That has been spoken about enough across all media, and very rightly so. However, this is about the Odisha Government and the Chief Minister’s resolve to continue working and not be complacent even for a moment. The recent success of Indian hockey at the Olympics was indisputably one of the most glorious moments in our modern sporting history, especially considering the massive dearth of medals and trophies that India had had in the last few decades.
Endless praise and recognition was deservedly showered upon Naveen Patnaik for his invaluable contribution to this moment, enough to shelter his legacy as the guardian angel of Indian Hockey for years to come. Yet, instead of basking in the glory of all the admiration being bestowed upon him, Patnaik announced recently that Odisha would continue to sponsor the men’s and women’s national teams for another 10 years after the current sponsorship ends in 2023.
This indicates his unmistakable commitment to not only bolstering the status of the state, but also the country at a global level. If this continues, as it would appear so, the gold(s) should be within touching distance.
(Author is a Research Intern in the Strategic Studies Group at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. Views are Personal.)