Here’s the interview with Odisha’s Sports and Youth Services Minister Tusharkanti Behera.
Odisha became the first state in the country to sponsor the Indian national hockey teams, men and women (senior and junior) in 2018 and continues the association with the sport. The decision has proved a masterstroke. Talk us through the government’s vision?
If you see, over the last decade, there has been a development in sports infrastructure, especially in hockey, and we have made very good progress from building infrastructure to producing international players and Olympians. Odisha is the cradle of hockey and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik took the decision to not only promote hockey but also sponsor the national teams. I am happy and proud that the state government took the decision. It is heartening to see the rise of hockey in India, and Odisha playing a part in the development of the game.
Odisha players Amit Rohidas and Birendra Lakra were part of the men’s hockey team that won an Olympic medal after a gap of 41 years. Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo were in the women’s team that finished a creditable fourth. How would you sum up the state’s contribution in producing hockey players who often make the Indian teams?
It’s a moment of great pride that Odisha once again produced players who represented India at the Olympics. The women were outstanding. Although they didn’t win a medal, they won a million hearts. Odisha players who are performing consistently at the national and international level are mostly from Sundargarh district and hockey is deeply rooted in their culture. Many hockey players like Olympian Dileep Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey, Prabodh Tirkey, Lazarus Barla and Nilima Minz, to name a few, have represented India and have made both the state and country proud. Rourkela, Sundargarh and Sambalpur have regularly produced players, and the state government is investing not just in hockey but also in other disciplines.
The state cabinet approved 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums. What’s the progress on this front?
In 2014, the state government decided to increase sporting infrastructure at the block level. So, in all 314 blocks and 114 urban local bodies, we have built 463 mini-stadiums. Regarding the urban local bodies, specifically for badminton, weightlifting and table tennis, we wanted to build multi-purpose indoor halls. The Chief Minister, in consultation with experts from various fields, took a decision that the state will invest approximately Rs 693 crore in a span of three years and we have come up with two models: multi-purpose indoor halls with a budget of Rs 10.15 crore for municipality and municipality corporations, and in Notified Area Council (NAC) with an investment of approximately Rs 6.40 crore. A total of 89 multi-purpose indoor halls will come up, which will be named as Biju Patnaik Indoor Stadium.
Odisha is investing heavily in sports infrastructure and has successfully hosted many international tournaments. The state is also gearing up to host the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022 and the Hockey World Cup in 2023. Your thoughts?
Staging international events require us to develop world-class infrastructure and allied facilities. Post the events, these facilities continue to host competitions while also allowing elite athletes to train there. The facilities continue to foster future legacies for the sport and the state. We are confident of again hosting a mega sporting spectacle and are confident of successfully hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022. Apart from this, in Rourkela, we have decided to install astro turfs in all 17 blocks and a world-class hockey stadium is getting ready to host the 2023 Hockey World Cup. A high-performance hockey training centre is also there in Kalinga Stadium.
Richly rewarded: Hockey players from Odisha State who represented the nation in the Tokyo Olympics and put up a brilliant show in the Japanese capital, were felicitated by the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. – Special Arrangement
The rise of high-performance centres (HPCs) has helped athletes enhance their performance. What is the state government’s role in this unique partnership involving private players and sports academies?
It is a unique partnership model and athletes at these HPCs have shown marked improvement in their performances. The infrastructure for these HPCs is the responsibility of the state government. To cater to the requirement of the HPCs and other sports disciplines, expansion and upgrade of the infrastructure facilities at Kalinga Stadium have commenced. The facilities and infrastructure will further ensure a holistic training ground for them to transition to become elite athletes.
The government has taken steps to promote grassroots talent and also built infrastructure at the gram panchayat level. What is the vision?
The government is focused on providing the best infrastructure and facilities to the athletes and budding sportspersons right from gram panchayat level to state level. Considering the abundance of talent in sports at the grassroots, it is very important to not only create a talent pathway but also develop an all-inclusive and accessible infrastructure such as training grounds to help in their transition to the next level of excellence and also create a sporting culture in the community.
Odisha has taken rapid strides in sports infrastructure development and hosting mega-events. What are your thoughts on the journey?
This credit goes to our Chief Minister, who is very passionate about sports. The government has a vision. Our efforts have been recognised by various sports fraternities and we also won the Best State for Promotion of Sports award at the Sportstar Aces Awards 2021 Giants of the Decade from The Hindu Group. We are committed to promoting sports and nurture sporting talent who will bring laurels to the state and country.