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My Last Word
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LAST WORD:Splurging, what about gains and legacy (12/28/2018)
--K. Arumugam
The World Cup is over. A million eyeballs watched 20 days of action in Bhubaneswar. The extravaganza witnessed new happenings as Hockey India and the provincial government of Odisha combined well, pooling resources and wisdom to stage hockey’s premier event in a remarkable way.

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The manner in which the event was organized impressed all. But it was all possible largely because crores of rupees were pumped in to make the World Cup a big-ticket event.

The last six months have witnessed a chain of events that culminated in the grand finale on December 16 at the Kalinga Stadium where Belgium created history by lifting their maiden title after beating The Netherlands in a shootout.

The logo release, The trophy unveiling, three-hour opening ceremony, promotion event involving Bollywood bigwigs in a non-host city, sports literature festival, publication of Souvenir books, exhibition matches involving living legends, felicitation of the 1975 World Cup winning team members, the invitation and hospitality for ambassadors of the visiting teams et al were meticulously planned and executed. undefined

The promotion of the World Cup was simply awe-inspiring. Sports stars from other sports were invited to regale the crowd and boost media coverage. Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketing legend graced the final. His former teammates Anil Kumle and Virendera Sehwag also made appearances in earlier matches.

Wrestling icon Sushil Kumar, shooting sensation Gagan Narang and tennis legend Leander Paes were other prominent sportspersons at the venue on invitation as well.

It added colour and enhanced the visibility of the event even though it may have cost the organizers dear. According to reports, some of the celebrities were flown in on chartered flights! Not to mention appearance money that some stars may well have commanded.

                      (PIC: Billboard highlights one-district producing 50+ international hockey players in Odisha

Now that the show is over, it’s time to introspect. To look back and look forward through all the buzz, hype and hoopla that the event generated. Has the World Cup left behind a legacy?

Firstly, it seems the capacity 15,000 crowd that thronged the stadium daily was the result of the wide promotion and ensuing publicity the event received.

Many of the thousands who turned up were first-timers to a hockey match. Those who celebrated a “goal” even if the ball was hit from way outside the D!

Would these new-found fans of the game stay connected to the game given that there is little or no hockey activity in the city?

It’s a pity that the refurbished and enlarged stadium with its new artificial pitches may not see national level activity in the near future – not even age group national champions.

Neither are there any all India tournaments set in Bhubaneswar. The Mango Cup, held annually in the past, is now defunct.

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And now, the very basic question: How many schools in Bhubaneswar play hockey to justify notions that the city is a hub for the game?

In the run-up to the World Cup that a leading newspaper and the Odisha Government jointly organized an inter-school competition. Just four schools participated!

Bhubaneswar city has about 200 schools out of which just five or six field hockey teams and only a couple of colleges patronize the sport.

Now we can understand why not many 'clinics' with schools were not held when every team had at least 3,4 days gap between matches at least twice.

We saw only a solitary occasion of a foreign team going to a public school during the World Cup.

For that mater, just a lone district in Odisha – Sundergarh -- produces hockey players with the rest of the state contributing almost zero from the remaining 29 districts.

That Sundergarh boasts of producing 50 international players is praise worthy but for hockey to be a sport followed by a far wider audience the situation is worrisome.

After all, the sport is still restricted to a lone district and to a lone ethnic and reglious group. Bhubaneswar may have hosted a great World Cup but the sport has not penetrated the city and it’s a point to ponder.

The sport should spread like it has in Punjab and Haryana if Odisha wants to acquire the tag of hockey capital of the country.

And there’s a long way to go.

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The subject of hockey’s little or no presence in educational institutions was broached by this writer with many officials and former players in Odisha. Not many knew the way forward.

Unless and until more schools and colleges take up hockey as a spin-off benefit of the interest generated by the World Cup, the future of the sport in Odisha appears bleak.

The World Cup, enjoyable as it was, wasn’t memorable from the Indian supporters point of view. India bowed out in the quarterfinals, falling to a formidable Netherlands. A podium finish would be etched in the memory but that was not to be.
                                   (PIC: A game in progress in a small lane in Bhubaneswar)

And, with the absence of a road map to effectively utilize the awareness and interest created in the city and the state in the last few months, the gains may all have been wasted.

Hockey, many claim, is way of life in Odisha. The above observations render it a cliché, a refrain without rationale.

But there’s yet time to turn it around and indeed make hockey a way of life in this land.

Dilip Tirkey, whose rise in hockey and later in public life as well, augurs well for the sport. The celebrated former India player speaks of laying a dozen turfs in Sundargarh in the days to come. But once again, it’s all about one district. What’s needed is that hockey be played in every block, tehsil and district level.

And it shouldn’t be confined to the Tirkeys, Lakras, Ekkas, Minz and Orams. It should spread to the Rauls, Patnaiks, Panis, Panigrahis, Beheras, Doras, Deos, Gaudas, Jenas, Mahantys, Mahabatras, Naiks, Ojhas, Rauts and Rays.

The Sahoos and Swains should also pick up the stick and wouldn’t that give width and depth to hockey in Odisha?

The state used to contribute more players to the national teams in the recent past than at present. Isn’t that a sign that the sport in Odisha is not at its best even now?

If Odisha wants to really head the Indian hockey provenance, it’s now time to act, spread the game, take it to schools and colleges the length and breadth of the state.

Only then can we reap benefit from the enormous expenditure of a single event.

In the run up, Odisha Govt signed many MoUs with many organizations, we hope the effort result in ushering the state as a sports conscious one and a sports-driven society.

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