HOURS after members of the Indian women’s hockey team broke down in tears after a brave show against Great Britain in the summer Olympics in Tokyo on August 6, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told them “they may have lost the match, but they have won over a billion hearts”.
Speaking to the stars of the women’s hockey team through video conferencing, he congratulated them for their performance and assured them that Odisha would continue to support the team. The players thanked Naveen Patnaik for the role he played in their journey.
The five-time Chief Minister, who has also won the hearts of many for his government’s support for the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams, invited the women’s hockey team to Odisha to attend a reception in Bhubaneswar on August 17. The Indian men’s hockey team will also be attending the reception.
Rani Rampal, captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, tweeted with a video message: “Our journey to the Tokyo Olympics wouldn’t have been possible without the support and guidance of the Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik.” She also thanked Naveen Patnaik for trusting their abilities.
Naveen Patnaik tweeted in response: “Salute to the fighting spirit of entire team of Indian Women’s Hockey. You are all champions and your spirited performance in Tokyo will continue to inspire sportspersons for years to come.”
On August 5, a day before the women’s team’s fighting spirit was discussed across the country, especially in Odisha, Naveen Patnaik received a video message through social media from Manpreet Singh, captain of the Indian men’s hockey team. Manpreet Singh’s said in his Twitter post: “This dream won’t be possible without the encouragement and vision of Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik who has been supporting us throughout this journey.”
The Chief Minister responded: “A billion salute to the proud captain and entire team of Indian Men’s Hockey. Your second home, Odisha is looking forward to welcome you on 17th August.”
Manpreet Singh posted his tweet soon after Naveen Patnaik spoke to the victorious stars of the Indian men’s hockey team and congratulated them on their spectacular defeat of Germany to win the bronze medal, giving the country an Olympic hockey medal after 41 years. “This historic win at Tokyo will inspire a generation of sportspersons,” the Chief Minister said.
While August 5 turned out to be a day of celebration when India beat Germany, August 6 became a day of sadness as thousands of Indians watched the Indian women’s team weep over their defeat in the bronze medal game. It was proved on both days that no other sport in India has the emotional connect that hockey has.
Dilip Tirkey, former captain of the Indian hockey team who hails from Odisha, was unable to control his tears as he watched the live telecast of the match at his residence in Bhubaneswar. “These young players, highly talented, have blossomed into accomplished stars through sheer hard work. They have a brighter future ahead. I am happy that they have achieved this success which we could not attain,” said Tirkey on the performance of the Indian hockey men’s team.
The hockey veteran and former Member of Parliament said: “The women’s team’s remarkable comeback after losing three important matches speaks a lot about their resilience and team spirit. Beating Australia, a much higher ranked team, was a morale-booster performance. They fought hard against the defending Olympic champion but lost the close match and thus missed the bronze medal by a whisker. But these brave hearts have signalled their arrival on the world stage.”
The Odisha government has been the sponsor of the Indian national hockey teams (men/women, junior/senior) since 2018 after Sahara pulled out. The sponsorship is for a period of five years with an assistance of Rs.150 crore to Hockey India. Odisha is the only State to sponsor a national team.
Hockey is more than a sport in Odisha. It is a way of life, especially in the tribal areas where children learn to start walking with hockey sticks. Odisha has produced some of the finest hockey players. The Chief Minister played hockey in his student days in Doon School. He used to be the goalkeeper. According to a senior official in the Sports Department, his love for hockey started then and he has been following the game ever since. More than his personal liking for the game, Naveen Patnaik is moved by the love of the people of Odisha for hockey as a game. This inspired him to make hockey promotion a mission. Rain or shine, a hockey match in Odisha always has a packed stadium.
The State government is giving special focus to the development of hockey with the objective of showcasing the sport and encouraging young talent in order to restore the glory of the game in the subcontinent. Odisha was the only State with a professional hockey club team called Kalinga Lancers. The team won the Hockey India League championship in 2017. The State runs sports hostels to provide hockey training to thousands of students. Some of those trained here have become international players.
Odisha to host Men’s World Cup
Odisha has hosted major international hockey championships in the last few years. These are Men’s World Cup in 2018, World League in 2017, FIH Pro-league and Olympic Qualifiers. The State will host the Men’s World Cup in 2023. India’s largest hockey stadium, with a seating capacity of 20,000, is under construction in Rourkela in Sundargarh district, which is known as the cradle of hockey in India. The stadium is being built at a cost of more than Rs.120 crore and will be one of the most modern hockey stadiums in the world.
In order to enable young hockey players to practice on astro-turf, the government is constructing 20 hockey training centres at a cost of Rs.200 crore. A professional coaching programme at the grass roots will ensure that a greater number of children are attracted to hockey and take it up as a career. A high-performance centre (HPC), in partnership with the Tata Group, to train hockey players in the under-17 years has been operational for the last two years at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. It is expected that in the coming years, a large number of national players will emerge from this centre.
Odisha is known as a global hub for hockey having organised back-to-back hockey world cups. The State will continue to partner with Hockey India and support Indian hockey teams in future, too, the official said. With all these initiatives, the Chief Minister believes that Odisha and India can create great hockey players and make the country a world champion. He has said on many occasions that “investment in sports is investment in youth and investment in youth is investment in the future”.
Odisha is focussing on other games, too. There are many Odia boys and girls in India’s rugby teams. The current Indian rugby women’s team has seven members from Odisha.
High performance centres
Odisha has become the first State to create 11 HPCs in 10 sports disciplines and has won applause for this model of public-private partnership initiated in 2018. While the HPCs for hockey, rugby, shooting, swimming, football, weightlifting, athletics, sport climbing are operational, the badminton HPC will be operational by the end of this year. One HPC for sports science is also operational.
The HPCs have engaged coaches with a commendable record. The athletes have access to the finest sports infrastructure and allied facilities. The focus is on their training and programming; recovery, injury prevention and rehabilitation; nutrition; and mental wellness.
The athletes participate in various national-level competitions, which helps the team to gauge their talent and improve their performance. Many sportspersons who trained at the HPCs have already made a mark at the State and national levels. “We are collectively working towards India’s Olympic dream of being amongst the top 10 countries in the medal tally,” the official said. The government has established a centre of excellence in sports management, which offers a three-month certificate course and a dual degree master’s programme.
In recent years, the Odisha government has increased its sports budget. If the HPCs run seamlessly and Odisha continues to organise major tournaments, the sports capital of India will become one of the major sports destinations in the world.