India capable of winning Olympic gold in hockey: Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik
According to Odisha CM, whose state is the official sponsor of both men's and women's Indian hockey teams, hockey is in our DNA and it's time the sport is more appreciated
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who is an ardent champion of hockey, feels the Indian hockey team has the "attitude and talent" to win the Olympic gold medal.
Talking to PTI, the Odisha CM said, "I believe India has the potential to win the Olympic gold medal in hockey. This team has the attitude and talent to make it happen." Patnaik, who is passionate about hockey happens to be the force behind the sport's revival in the country.
"Hockey is in our DNA. It's time for hockey to be more appreciated. I know plenty of other sports are vying for our country's attention but hockey deserves some shine," said Patnaik, whose state is the official sponsor of both men's and women's Indian hockey teams.
As the country celebrates the men's hockey team's Asian Games gold and Paris Olympics qualification, the Odisha CM deserves a special mention.
Patnaik, who played hockey while studying at Doon School, can be seen cheering the Indian teams from the galleries whenever they play in Odisha or sitting in front of TV when they play abroad. His government pitched in to help Indian hockey when it was in a crisis after Sahara withdrew sponsorship for all teams in 2018. No sponsor meant practically no competitive play for the teams.
Patnaik believes the Indian hockey team is capable of repeating its top-of-the-podium performance at the Paris Olympics next year. The last time India won an Olympic gold medal in hockey was in 1980.
"Let's hope for the best. We will provide whatever support Hockey India requires to make this dream a reality," he said. "Both men's and women's Indian teams have played well in recent tournaments. To support them, we are organising the Pro League matches in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela in February. I hope this will provide them with a lot of practice matches before the Olympics," he added.
Love for hockey
Recalling how his love for hockey began, Patnaik said, "I learnt from my father Biju Patnaik how the role of hockey has been so deep-rooted in nation building during the freedom movement. My love for the game began then. I started playing hockey in school as a goalkeeper."
"Most Indians believe hockey is our national sport. So, we can see that there is a strong emotional connect with the game. Hockey deserves all of our sincere support. It's a game which brings together the whole nation when India plays at the Olympics," he said.
"I always enjoy watching our teams play and like to cheer for them. Whenever they play in Odisha, I make it a point to go to the stadium and encourage the players," he added.
Hockey, a way of life in Sundargarh
In Odisha's Sundargarh, hockey is not just a game, it is a way of life, said Patnaik. "The people of Odisha are very passionate about the sport. In 2018, when Hockey India was struggling for sponsors, we decided to step forward and bolster support," he said.
"I am very happy to see that it has helped improve the performance of the teams at the Olympics and the Asian Games," the chief minister said.
After an initial five-year sponsorship, the Odisha government further extended it for both men's and women's hockey teams (senior and junior) for another 10 years from 2023 to 2033.
"In Odisha, hockey matches are played in packed stadiums. In Rourkela, even local tournaments have more than 10,000 spectators coming to watch and cheer the teams. We hope that all this passion and enthusiasm will continue to create great champions from the state," Patnaik said.
Odisha has produced players like Dilip Tirkey, Lazarus Barla, Willian Xalco, Namita Toppo, Deep Grace Ekka and Amit Rohidas.
Odisha: Global hub of hockey
"Our efforts over the last few years have made Odisha the global hub of hockey. We have the world's best hockey stadiums and coaching centres. Our endeavour is to get the best facilities and coaching for our players," Patnaik said.
"We are already committed to sponsoring the teams till 2033. And we will continue to host the major tournaments so that our teams get the home advantage and improve their rankings," he added.
Odisha had hosted Men's Hockey World Cup in 2018 and 2023, Champions Trophy 2014, Men's FIH Series finals 2018-19, FIH Olympic qualifiers 2019 and Men's Pro League 2021.
Patnaik said his government is "investing a lot in hockey". "We have created 22 hockey training centres with astro turfs at the grassroots level and many more are planned to spread the hockey culture across the state.
"Bhubaneswar and Rourkela have become the global hockey hubs. We have a high performance centre in Bhubaneswar, providing sports science support. We will be starting our own state hockey league soon," he said.
(With agency inputs)