Over the last four years, Odisha has been making rapid progress in the development of sports and football has been on the priority list. Odisha hosting the Indian Federation Cup in May 2017 at Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium was the turning point as the event created a buzz and fanfare among football fans.
It was just a glimpse into the football action the state would see in the coming years.
The arrival of the Indian Super League (ISL) saw Kalinga Stadium play host to Jamshedpur FC against Bengaluru FC in February 2018. This was quickly followed by the inaugural edition of the Hero Super Cup in March 2018, which saw fans come out in large numbers to witness some gripping action.
Since then, Odisha has constantly been the hub of top footballing action in the country and has hosted some mega football events.
It started with the I-League games of Indian Arrows for the 2018-19 season, followed by the Hero Women’s Gold Cup and the Hero Super Cup in 2019. The AFC Cup in the same year saw the state hosting Minerva Punjab FC against Manang Marshyangdi of Nepal. Following this, the ISL games of Odisha FC for the 2019-20 season were also held in the state.
Apart from national high-voltage clashes, Kalinga Stadium has also hosted the Youth I-League matches of Sports Hostel Odisha, State Women’s League matches and many others. Optimum utilisation of the world-class facilities at the stadium to support football aspirants has been a clear focus of the state government.
Having laid the blueprint for hosting successful tournaments, the crown jewel was when Odisha grabbed the rights to host the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022. Kalinga Stadium will host the maximum number of games out of all the five venues chosen for the tournament.
To further develop the game in the state, the government established two important partnerships with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Delhi Soccer Private Limited (Odisha FC).
With the help of the AIFF, the state is supporting camps for the national youth teams (under-15 and under-19) with the aim of creating a pool of footballers for the senior national team. In return, the governing body has been working with the state to positively impact the football ecosystem and help Odisha produce players who can be part of the national team across age groups. Currently, 11 players, both boys and girls, from Odisha, are in the national team camps across age categories.
Earlier this year, as part of this partnership, the state government in collaboration with the AIFF conducted the Referee Development Cat-5 course for 90 participants and the AIFF-E certificate course for 72 participants from the state.
In the case of Odisha FC, a partnership was formed between the state and DSPL with the aim of giving the football-loving Odiyas a club of their own to support, while creating an avenue for talented youngsters to make it to the top professional football clubs in the country.
Odisha FC will soon be launching a youth academy in the state and will focus on training talented local youngsters. The motto is to concentrate on setting the right foundation and to device a framework to produce top footballers at the academy. This initiative will work in tandem with existing government initiatives for football development, including the preexisting residential sports academy setup in the state.
Further impetus will be provided to the grassroots level as part of the legacy programs for the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022. The event is being planned in collaboration with the local organising committee to host the World Cup in a successful manner.
The aim of this initiative, as well as the ones planned with the aforementioned stakeholders, will be to work on two fronts: empowering coaches and other technical staff who are the backbone of a strong football ecosystem and to bring more playing members into the system by increasing competitions to identify the best in the state.
To support the plans of hosting world tournaments as well as conducting local coaching and competitions, state-of-the-art infrastructure is being built and plans for building sustainable infrastructure are in the pipeline. For the upcoming FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, four FIFA-standard football-training pitches along with the Kalinga Stadium main football pitch have been developed within the city of Bhubaneswar. A FIFA-standard artificial turf is also coming up in Bhubaneswar which will be used for elite training as well as for conducting grassroots programmes. The competition area of the main stadium has been upgraded to house all requirements as prescribed by FIFA for World Cup games. The training pitches have allied infrastructure that includes changing rooms, coach and referee rooms and other facilities that will provide the participating teams a world-class experience. These facilities will also have well-equipped fitness centres.
On the grassroots development front, football corners with sustainable natural grass football surfaces will be built across a few select locations in Odisha. Based on the observations in this pilot phase, a more detailed plan will be rolled out.