The Indian men’s hockey team began their World Cup campaign with a bang yesterday, defeating mighty Spain in a high-octane clash at the newly built Birsa Munda stadium at Rourkela. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, under whose watch Odisha is organizing the FIH Men’s World Cup Hockey event for the second time in a row, a record in itself, was at the stadium cheering for the Indian team.

Patnaik is no ordinary fan of the game. His affair with hockey began in school where he used to be his team’s goalkeeper. One would normally expect a chief minister as busy as Patnaik to forget everything about a game he played in school, but his love for hockey has stood the test of time.

He is not only a keen follower of the game, he has also been promoting it assiduously. He came to the rescue of the game when Indian hockey was desperately looking for sponsors in 2018. Patnaik decided to sponsor both men and women national teams till 2023. Last year, the contract was extended till 2033.

Led by Patnaik, Odisha government became the first state government to back India’s national game in this manner. His support helped revive the game which was in dire financial straits and was progressively losing following. Young men and women wanting to make a career in sports avoided taking up hockey as it could neither fetch them money nor jobs.

But Patnaik’s move changed the face of the game which regained its lost glory with the Indian men’s team winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics after a gap of 40 years and the women’s team entering the semi-finals for the first time in history. The entire nation applauded not only the teams but also the man behind their phenomenal success – none other than Patnaik himself.

If Patnaik’s sponsorship has changed the face of Indian hockey, the game has also been responsible for changing the image of Odisha. Once counted among the most backward states of the country, which made national news invariably for droughts and starvation deaths, Odisha is today known the world over as the new home of hockey. The fact that Odisha is organizing the hockey men’s world cup for the second time on the trot speaks volumes for the progress the state has made under the leadership of Patnaik.

Among the front-ranking states of India, Odisha today boasts a stable economy and development on all fronts. It is the most favoured investment destination of the country which offers industrialists not only rich mineral resources but also the best possible infrastructure, including excellent roads, top-rated schools and colleges and world-class health facilities. And now added to that list is world-class sports infrastructure, especially hockey stadiums, the latest being Rourkela’s Birsa Munda stadium where yesterday’s encounter between India and Spain took place.

Hockey has, thus, truly come to symbolize the progress of Odisha. Thanks to Patnaik, the two are now inseparable.

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