No Longer India’s Best Kept Secret, Odisha is Now ‘Where the World Comes to Play’

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No Longer India’s Best Kept Secret, Odisha is Now ‘Where the World Comes to Play’
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In recent times, Odisha has become the centre for sports in India – hosting major world sporting events and that too in multiple sports.

The state is famous for being a hotbed to unearth and nurture hockey talent not only in India but across the world.

After hosting the 2019 Men’s Hockey World Cup, they will again host the world best again for another edition next year, the first time the quadrennial event will be hosted in the same city consecutively. Apart from Bhubaneswar, the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela, which is the largest hockey stadium in the world, will share the load of matches.

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This will be hot on the heels of seeing India’s FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup matches being played at the Kalinga Stadium. Odisha government also has been the patron for the now-defunct Indian Arrows teams as well as training venue for the country’s women’s and age category sides.

Alongside the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High Performance Centre, the state government is building an indoor athletics facility, which has been designed by James Hillier, the Athletics Director for the Reliance Foundation Athletics Programme.

The project is slated to be completed by the end of this year after heavy cyclonic rains almost threatened to derail plans. The facility will serve as an ideal place for Indian athletes to practice with day-time temperatures becoming a hurdle, which limits training periods.

“We’re hoping the stadium will be completed by December. As of now we don’t have any proposal to host an event there. Indoor athletics championships is not there in India. So maybe we will have to host a National Indoor Championships [India’s first]. It’s for AFI (Athletics Federation of India) to organise, but we will have the venue ready if they do,” Odisha’s sports secretary Vineel Krishna told a select group of journalists.

Apart from Athletics, Vineel Krishna revealed that Odisha will have a high performance centre for gymnastics as well as inaugurating centres for badminton and shooting in collaboration with Pullela Gopichand and Gagan Narang.

“Even though we are focussing on hockey, all said and done, there are only two medals on offer in the sport with whatever investment we make. Whereas something like athletics (in partnership with Reliance Foundation), swimming (in partnership with JSW Sports) and gymnastics, there are more medals. Naturally as a state and as a country, we need to get into these sports and become a force when it comes to the medals tally,” Vineel Krishna said.

“The centre is almost ready at Kalinga Stadium. We’re just waiting for the Gymnova equipment, a brand that has been used at previous Olympic Games. It will be inaugurated next month. We will also have a centre for gymnastics in Puri, Jeypore and Cuttack. We wanted to focus on gymnastics because at the Khelo India Games and the recent National Games we got a few medals in gymnastics. So we wanted to focus on that sport”

After taking over as hosts of the Asian Athletics Championship in 2017, when Ranchi backed out, and pulling off the event with just a 90-day notice, Bhubaneswar’s good will as a sporting destination was well established.

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“With respect to international competitions, we are open to hosting any events in the priority sports we have here. Right now the main focus has been in terms of hockey, because it is more popular and attracts crowds to the stadium. Besides, the Indian team also does well. In athletics, if the Athletics Federation of India wants to organise any of the championships, we’re open to the idea of hosting it here. Similarly for other sports. As of now there are no proposals that have come to us to host events after the FIH Men’s World Cup in January. But we will be quite open to that,” he said.

When asked about a potential Olympics bid, Vineel Krishna said: “From what we understand, the IOC allows three cities (at most) to be part of a country’s bid. It’s a call to be taken by the government of India and the Indian Olympic Association. But we would definitely be glad to be a part of that, given an opportunity.”

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