Asking common people about Odisha, the answer will be the architecture, sculpture, classical dance, religious places, forests, silk and sweets. The state is known as ‘Karuteertha Kalinga’ and its capital Bhubaneswar is famous as ‘The city of Architecture’. People from the rest of the world mostly visited Bhubaneswar, the state capital, as a gateway of Puri, Konark, Dhaulagiri. Even people used to stay in Bhubaneswar for the architectural relics of the temples like Lingaraj Temple, Rajarani Temple, Mukteshwar Temple. But from the second decade of the 21st century, the entire state started seeking the attention of the sports lovers. Nowadays, after hosting two Field Hockey World Cups in a row, the city is known as the Hockey Hub of India.
I visited Bhubaneswar six years ago to witness the architectural relics of the city. But during the world cup 2023, I decided to visit again. Not only to watch a live world cup match, my curiosity was to witness the paradigm shift of the city. I found the excitement of common people was palpable and the pride genuine.
The culture did not sprout in one day. However, the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik deserves credit for turning Odisha into the new home of Indian hockey by expanding the facility and creating a world-class infrastructure. But his father, JB Patnaik sowed the seed of sports during the early 80’s when residential sports hostel complexes were built in areas where local talents could be spotted. They were trained by coaches from the Sports Authority of India (SAI). Odisha took advantage of the Central Government’s initiatives like “Catch Them Young” in the mid-80s. The talented young stars were observed in Sundargarh district. When JB Patnaik became CM for his second tenure, he founded hostels and academies for the young talents. According to Olympian Lazarus Barla, “The tribal-dominated Sundergarh district is a storehouse of hockey talent. It all began long back when Christian missionaries came to the district. They found the game as an easy way to unite the local tribes, which had a flair for hockey. It was the cheapest and best way of bringing them together”. Sundergarh has since come to be known as the nursery of Indian hockey. Apart from Lazarus Barla, the district gifted the nation many great hockey players like Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey. But the culture of Hockey flourished in Odisha under the patronage of Naveen Patnaik, who played hockey during his school days. Bhubaneswar hosted the 14th Hockey World Cup in 2018. It was a successful event. Again, by virtue of the diplomatic move of the CM, Bhubaneswar was selected to host the 15th World Cup jointly with Rourkela. It is the first time in history that a city is hosting two World Cups in a row.
This time Odisha Government focused on the facility. After getting down from the bus, I noticed that everybody was discussing hockey. Those who have no relation with the sports are asking about it. Cut out posters are everywhere from rail stations to the street lamp posts.
The city walls have been painted with murals and hockey-themed sculptures, and replicas of the mascot Olly have been made and placed at major cross sections of the city.
I liked their approach to promote their tourism and heritage to the foreigners. Odisha Government has made a masterstroke by involving the tourists into different fun and touring activities like story telling sessions (‘BhuFesto’), heritage walk, food festival etc. The government has set a slogan, “Odisha: India’s best kept secret”. They have highlighted their cultural richness by setting up the replicas of the Wheel of Konark and the panel of Rajarani Temple and made them the ‘selfie zone’ inside the stadium.
Since I booked the ticket via the internet, I had to collect the physical copy of the same. I visited the local information kiosk and they guided me where to go. The kiosk tents have been pitched in the every major ‘chaka’s (crossings), rail station and hotel area. At least three persons were deployed there who know English and a foreign language like French, Spanish, German and Japanese.
After going inside the stadium, I was astonished to see the clean and almost dust free stadium. And the ground… I was amazed to see that. All the facilities were there for the audiences.
But there was one negative side also. Actually, the people of Odisha are not much exposed to World Sports and international culture. They are a bit mechanical. Thus, the announcements were needed to cheer them up. Since I belong to Kolkata – a sports loving metro city. My city has hosted various Cricket and Football matches for the last 100 years. I expected a gallery with Mexican waves, clapping at an appropriate time. But I did not find such activities.
But Bhubaneswar has done enough for the sports. Their point of view is changing.
Finally, the stage is ready for the Indian Team. The country’s four-decade long Olympic medal drought was an albatross that was finally flung in Tokyo last to last year. Last time India entered into the World Cup semi-final in 1975 when they won the gold medal. Can the team break the Jinx in Bhubaneswar?