The accolades have been pouring in from all over the country. And why not? After all, before Odisha did it, no one else had thought that a state government could sponsor a national sporting team. When the Naveen Patnaik government stepped in to sponsor the Indian hockey team for the next five years after former sponsor Sahara backed out in 2018, it was justifiably hailed for thinking out of box and doing something that had been the preserve of corporate entities.
After the Indian men’s team won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics—the first podium finish in 41 years—captain Manpreet Singh was effusive in his praise for the Odisha chief minister. “This dream won’t be possible without the encouragement & vision of Hon’ble Chief Minister of Odisha Shri Naveen Patnaik ji, who has been supporting us throughout this journey…,” Manpreet tweeted.
Sponsorship of the Indian team, however, is only a part of the Odisha government’s approach in promoting hockey. The metamorphosis of the once sleepy Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar into a hockey arena of international standards has been a major achievement. With the required infrastructure in place, it has emerged as the favoured venue for top international hockey tournaments like the FIH World Cup (2018), the Champions Trophy (2014) and the FIH World League (2019). Having successfully hosted the 2018 World Cup, Bhubaneswar has earned the rare distinction of being named the venue for the marquee tournament for the second successive time in 2023. With the 2023 event in mind, the Odisha government is building the biggest hockey stadium in India: the Birsa Munda stadium, with a seating capacity of 20, 000, in the steel city of Rourkela, which is co-hosting the event.