Hockey lovers in Odisha are celebrating the selection of three players – Deep Grace Ekka, Amit Rohidas and Birendra Lakra – from the state to represent the country at the Tokyo Olympics. While Deep Grace will be a part of the Indian women’s team, Amit and Birendra will lend strength to the men’s squad which will be looking for a podium finish at Tokyo. Incidentally, all the three have honed their playing skills in Sundergarh district, the much talked about hockey nursery of Odisha that has produced many national and international level players, including former India captain Dilip Tirkey.
A lot of credit for turning Sundergarh into a powerhouse of hockey goes to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who has been promoting the game vigorously. Incidentally, the news of selection of the abovementioned players for the Tokyo Olympics comes within days of commencement of work on the Birsa Munda international hockey stadium, touted to be the country’s largest with a seating capacity of 20,000, in Rourkela. The steel city which is the hub of sporting activities in Sundergarh district. The stadium, which will co-host Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 along with the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, is a dream project of Patnaik, who remains keen to cement Odisha’s position as the sports capital of India.
A great sports lover, the Chief Minister had given a massive boost to hockey in 2018 by announcing that his government would sponsor the Indian National Hockey teams for the next five years. Both men and women’s teams benefited from the sponsorship. The year also saw Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga stadium hosting the men’s hockey world cup for the first time. The event immediately catapulted Odisha and its capital city into international limelight. Patnaik and his private secretary VK Pandian drew praise for the successful organization of the championship that put the state firmly on the sports map of the world.
While Kalinga Stadium is now an internationally acclaimed venue for hockey matches, it was also the home ground of Odisha FC, a premier Indian Super League (ISL) team that has turned football into a multi-million dollar game in India. Set in the heart of Bhubaneswar, Kalinga Stadium is a multi-purpose state-of-the-art sporting complex with facilities for athletics, football, field hockey, basketball, tennis, table tennis, volleyball, wall climbing and swimming. Under the able guidance of the five-time Chief Minister, it has been suitably refurbished to host international events.
Though hockey is the most talked about game in the context of Odisha for the obvious reason that the state has produced several international hockey stars, Patnaik has also been trying to promote other games and sporting activities. In 2019 his government took an important step towards setting up a Badminton Academy at the Kalinga Stadium in collaboration with Dalmia Bharat Group and Pullela Gopichand Academy. Gopichand, arguably the best badminton coach in the country, himself visited Bhubaneswar to have a look at the facilities. He also called on the Chief Minister, whose sincere efforts to develop world-class sporting infrastructure in the state, especially in the capital city, have been widely appreciated. This has also made him the all-time favourite of the younger generation who can now take genuine pride in the big strides that the state has made in the field of sports.