Bhubaneswar — When India hosted Spain on the opening day of the World Cup in Rourkela, it proved a “very emotional” moment for those involved in the construction of a sporting venue just 15 months in the making. Covid, lockdowns, global supply chain restrictions, coupled with a prolonged monsoon season, there were an array of challenges.
“We were running against time for the most part of last year,” says R. Vineel Krishna, Special Secretary to chief minister Naveen Patnaik. “Even if someone had come two months beforehand they would have thought this wasn’t possible.”
Yet Jan 13 will go down as a memorable moment for the state, as well as for the sport, with Krishna revealing in an interview with The Hockey Paper why Odisha has pumped so much investment into sport and that a future multi-sports global event bid could be on the cards as part of a long-term vision.
“It’s one of the best stadiums for teams and fans and built against the odds,” adds Krishna of the Birsa Mundi international stadium, which cost around £26.1m. “It was a very emotional period for us and the kind of response the crowd was giving in Rourkela. It was kind of expected as it was the heartland of hockey in Odisha and people are crazy about hockey.”
While hockey is the runaway leader in the state, Odisha’s overall objective, with the backing of its chief minister, is to create a sports-oriented society focusing on health and fitness.
“Globally, people associate Odisha with hockey,” says Krishna, who is also commissioner cum secretary, department of sports & youth services. “It’s not limited to hockey but it’s all the sports.”
There is the building of India’s first indoor athletics stadium as well as an aquatics centre and facilities for badminton, shooting and velodrome. “These are all the sports we want to give a big push to,” says Krishna.
Odisha has hosted a phalanx of individual games and events, such as the Commonwealth table tennis championships, weightlifting and the Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup. The simple truth is that no other state has the sports budget (a whopping £130m) the size of Odisha’s purse, £50m of which is set aside for its ‘mega sports project’.
There are currently 90 multi-sport indoor halls across the state to promote grass roots sports, with over 20 hockey training centres.
The inevitable question is whether the state may bid for an event such as the Commonwealth Games. After all, they have a blueprint to fall on in any bids in hosting back-to-back men’s World Cups.
“In the immediate future it’s not something we are looking at, but in the long-term maybe,” Krishna reveals. “That’s something beyond the division of the Odisha government, it has to be the bid of the Olympic association and Indian government.
“Once the infrastructure is in place we would like it to be best utilised in whatever possible manner.”
Just like the chief minister’s description of the Rourkela stadium – “like a dream becoming a reality” – the push and vision for sport has been extraordinary.
“Looking at the beauty of the stadium, the response of the crowd which he [chief minister] experienced, he was quite emotional. It was something amazing. With the half-time crowd celebration, it was more of a celebration than the match.”
So, what is the legacy of the Rourkela stadium? “It’s a question we were asked when we built the Kalinga Stadium also for 2018,” says Krishna. “Why are we investing so much in one stadium? You have seen after the 2018 World Cup that we continuously hosted major hockey tournaments.
“We can take pride that it’s the global hub for hockey. We have plans for Pro League matches now at Rourkela, as well as international tournaments and it will be in continuous usage with state and national level events.”
Yet Krishna said that Odisha has “no intentions of highjacking” hockey away from other parts if India, although there is little sign of Pro League or even Test series taking place in Delhi, Calcutta or Chandigarh.
He added: “It’s Hockey India’s prerogative of where they want to connect matches. The reason why they want to come and host matches here is because of the facilities and the kind of cooperation they get from the state government and, more importantly, from the response of the crowd.
“The reason why they have shifted to cities like Bhubaneswar is because they are not getting the kind of response in metro cities where it’s always the empty stadiums. I think it is something that will be extremely happy if more cities and stadiums are placed in connecting more tournaments. At the end of it, our chief minister wants only the development of hockey in whatever manner possible.”