Why Odisha chief minister is standing tall in Indian Hockey’s moment of glory

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s love for the game blossomed at Doon School but it was Odia people’s craze for the national game that prompted the reticent CM to support national hockey teams with a Rs 120-crore deal for five years

Odisha has hosted several prestigious international hockey tournaments in the past five years. CM Naveen Patnaik thinks that holding international tournaments will give Indian players the required exposure to world-class hockey and help them develop their skills.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (Did you know that he was a former goalkeeper?) has played a big role in the stellar performances given by men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 recently.

The 5-time chief minister shared his joy on Twitter on August 3 when the women’s team stunned Australia 1-0 to enter the semi-finals. The reticent chief minister shared a video online expressing his happiness. On August 5, when the men’s contingent won a bronze, India’s first medal at the summer Olympics in 41 years, Patnaik tweeted: “Brilliant in Blue. Congratulations Indian Men’s Hockey Team on a spectacular victory. This historic win at #Tokyo 2020 will inspire generations of sportspersons. All the very best for the future. #Cheers4India @hockeyIndia.”

Seventy four-year-old Patnaik’s love for the game blossomed in Doon School where he played hockey as a goalkeeper. The CM’s appreciation of the game prompted the Odisha government to step in and support Indian hockey in 2018, when the Sahara Group withdrew sponsorships to the men’s and women’s national teams. The Odisha government promised Rs 120 crore to support India’s national game for the next five years. In the past three years, Patnaik has been the pillar of strength for national hockey — offering funds and resources whenever required.

Watch: Building house & hope: Mizoram’s first hockey player at the Olympics

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Besides providing infrastructure and logistic support, the state government bore the expenses for boarding, training and education of both national teams. Odisha is the first and only state so far to have taken the responsibility of supporting a national sports team. When asked why he is doing a job that is primarily the Centre’s duty, Patnaik had said, “Somebody has to do it, to spare embarrassment to the country and the sport.”

Odisha has hosted several prestigious international hockey tournaments in the past five years. They are men’s Hockey World Cup (2018), Champion’s Trophy (2014) and the Hockey World League Final in 2017). The state will once again host the World Cup in 2023. Patnaik thinks that holding international tournaments will give Indian players the required exposure to world-class hockey and help them develop their skills.

Indian men’s team captain Manpreet Singh had a special message for Patnaik. He tweeted: “This dream won’t be possible without the encouragement & vision of Hon’ble Chief Minister of Odisha Shri Naveen Patnaik ji who has been supporting us throughout this journey – thank you so much sir from the team and me.”

Manpreet further said: “While everyone was supporting cricket, the honourable CM chose hockey, and today you can see the result. I would like to say, thank you so much sir.”

While it is understandable that Patnaik likes the game of hockey, it is the Odia people’s love for the national game that prompted the Chief Minister to support Indian teams. India Today reported that there is a popular saying in Odisha that “children learn to walk with a hockey stick in hand. Those who cannot afford a hockey stick make do by bending a kendu branch or a bamboo shoot”. For the people of Odisha, hockey events are no less than festivals.

The state has produced legends like Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey, Lazarus Barla and Sunita Lakra. Today, the vice-captains of men’s (Birendra Lakra) and women’s (Deep Grace Ekka) national hockey teams are from Odisha.

The state is set to spend Rs 190 crore to construct 18 astroturf grounds in Sundargarh district of Odisha, which is considered the cradle of the game. At Rourkela, the state will build Inidia’s biggest hockey stadium, with a budget of Rs 120 crore.

The Sundargarh State Sports Academy identifies talent really young. Players, as young as 8 or 10 years old, are groomed to play at the highest level.

Odisha boasts of 16 sports hostels spread across the state, a sports academy at Sundargarh and high-performance centres for other sports to prepare them for the international tournaments.

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