Indians cheered when both the Indian men and women’s hockey team entered the semi finals in the Tokyo Olympics 2021. After a long gap there is country wide feeling that finally India’s arduous endeavour to restore its past glory in the field of hockey is possibly being realised in practice. While Indian men’s team has so far set a world record in winning the Olympic gold medals on eight occasions, its performance has not been all that impressive for several decades to enter semifinals. It was indeed heart breaking to see the eight time olympic medal winner play in qualifying matches on several occasions to become eligible to play hockey in the Olympics. None other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while inaugurating the Olympic Bhavan of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in New Delhi on 28th April 2007 had regretfully observed, “In hockey the eight-time Olympic champion nation has gone down pathetically, with the last gold medal coming in as far back as 1980.” He, therefore, stressed on "unleashing " a new nationwide "wave of sports consciousness and development" involving the young.
It is against such below bench mark performance of India in hockey that the entry of both Indian women and men’s hockey team to the semi finals of Tokyo Olympics is so uplifting indeed. While the Indian men’s hockey team entered semi finals after more than four decades the Indian women’s team has done so for the first time by beating the mighty Australian team which has the enviable standing of being the Olympic champion for three times.
Odisha Govt Sponsored Hockey Teams
As India received the cheering news that both the women and men hockey team of our country registered their places in the Tokyo olympics there were Tweets and social media posts hailing Odisha Government and its Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for sponsoring both the teams and creating a much needed ambience in the State for promoting hockey in sudden contrast to the intense passion prevailing for cricket . The contents of a post which became viral in social media underlined the seminal contributions of Naveen Patnaik Government for cause of hockey without blowing his trumpet.
'' The sponsor of Indian Women & Men Hockey Team is Odisha's Naveen Patanaik govt. he doesn't broadcast #MannkiBaat ''
In the Midst of Craze for Cricket Odisha’s Endeavour to Restore Glory of Indian Hockey
When there is a craze for cricket in every corner of India Naveen’s preferences for hockey and the steps he took for its revival so that India's past glory in the national game is restored is simply extraordinary. I recall that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his aforementioned speech while acknowledging the excellence India achieved in the field of cricket appealed for promoting a culture of excellence in the arena of other sports and games. There is deepening interest in cricket as our cricketers have commended attention from across the nation and they brought glory for our country. The deepening interest is evidenced by investment of millions of rupees in the Indian Premier League(IPL) cricket matches and even on cricket players from across the world. Corporates, politicians, top notch bollywood stars and multi millionaire advertisers have poured money and made it disproportionately commercial. Frankly speaking there is huge money involved in cricket now and so very important people are attracted to it. Hockey, our national game, never got such attention even though India won eight gold medals in olympics and such a glorious record is yet to be equalled by any nation. There is no big money involved in hockey.
Odisha New Hub of Hockey
In such an atmosphere marked by frenzied support for cricket Naveen Patnaik stood out as an exception for espousing the cause of hockey. Spotting talent among tribal youth of Odisha hailing from Sundargarh district of the State he found in them an innate love for the game and easy adaptability to the intricate aspects of hockey. Naveen Patnaik famously said, "Hockey in Odisha is more than a sport; it is a way of life especially in our tribal regions, where children learn to walk with hockey sticks. No wonder Odisha has produced India's finest Hockey talent,"
One such young man Dilip Tirkey rose to become captain of Indian Hockey team. He was later elected to the Rajya Sabha by Naveen Patnaik’s party BJD.
The organisation of several international hockey events in Odisha on a regular basis provided fillip to hockey in the State and country. The World Cup Hockey organised in Bhubaneswar during November-December 2018 in Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar constituted a crowning glory for Odisha and it contributed in a big way to take forward the cause of hockey. A few months back Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation of one of the biggest hockey stadiums of the world, the Birsha Munda International Hockey Stadium, in Rourkela, located in Sundargarh district which has produced several national and international hockey players. The 2023 Men’s World Cup Hockey championship is scheduled to be organised there. It is noteworthy that two players each of Indian women and men’s hockey teams scheduled to play semi finals in Tokyo olympics hail from Sundergarh. The Vice Captain of each of those teams is also from Odisha. A High Performance Centre at the Kalinga Stadium Sports Complex has been established for the purpose of providing international standard training facilities to hockey players. Punjab, Jharkhand and some other States constitute the hubs of hockey and many top players of our country come from those States. Now leadership from Odisha through public policy measures has created conditions for emergence of the State as a major centre producing hockey players and fine tuning their skills and acquiring capability for competing at national and international events.
Odisha’s Gift to the Nation
In February 2018 the Government of Odisha took a momentous decision to sponsor both Indian women and men’s national hockey teams for five years from 2018 to 2023 by signing an agreement with Hockey India. It involved expenses amounting Rs.150 crores. In doing so the State of Odisha became the first ever State in India to have sponsored the national hockey teams. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik described it as a “historic step” and “Odisha’s gift to the nation”. “Every Odia is proud that team India will wear Odisha’s logo”, he added.
The decision of the International Hockey Federation(FIH) to confer the FIH President’s Award on Naveen Patnak in 2019 and in 2021 on 5T Secretary of the State V K Pandian underlined the recognition it accorded on the role played by the State of Odisha in promoting hockey at the national and global level.
The seminal contributions of Naveen Patnaik in taking forward the cause of hockey are huge. This is particularly so in the context of Indian hockey team’s poor performance at international level. What Naveen Patnaik has done reminds us of the role played by Dorabji Tata, second Chairman of the Tata Group, in ensuring India’s first ever participation in Olympic Games in 1919. It was he who as President of the Indian Olympic Association played a key role in sending the first ever Indian hockey team to Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. Winning of a gold medal by that team heralded the glorious era for Indian hockey. It was the beginning of India’s sports adventure at the international level and the game of hockey played by Indian team brought us laurels in pre pre-independence period and for several years after we became independent. In fact if India has a stellar record in winning gold in any field of sports it is hockey. It is our national game. So the entry of Indian women and men’s hockey teams to semi final level in Tokyo Olympics is nothing but a big step for revival of that lost glory. Odisha’s contributions in this regard is indeed momentous. It was best captured by the tweet of Rajdeep Sardesai :
“The one neta who deserves a big salaam today is @Naveen_Odisha . At a time when most netas want to be BCCI members,corporates want IPL glamour, Odisha govt has invested in hockey, sponsored both women and men’s team, built world class infra. Take a bow Odisha!#hockeyindia”
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.