By Andrew Amsan
Last fortnight, at the Men’s Hockey World Cup, India did not make it beyond the quarter-finals, but still stood at a win-win position. The 19-day-long tournament, held in Bhubaneswar, showcased the city’s ability to execute a world-class tournament with finesse. Preparations for the tournament began more than a year ago, with the state machinery going full-throttle to ensure things fell into place just in time. The Kalinga Stadium took a magnificent transformation, with new stands and media and VIP boxes increasing its capacity to 15,000. The main and practice turfs were relaid for the event. The moment you entered the stands, the feeling and the view felt absolutely surreal.
There were some doubts ahead of the tournament whether Bhubaneswar was the ideal venue for a world event, but the way the tournament panned out all these questions were put to rest. In fact, it seems that hosting major tournaments in smaller cities is probably the way to go from now. The fact that online tickets for the tournament were sold out at the very start of the tournament gives you an indicator of how passionate the city is about hockey. All the matches, including non-India games, had supporters filling the stadium to the brim. Most fans queued up at the entrance hours before the match. “In Odisha, we are crazy about hockey. We also like football a lot, but the passion for hockey is different. It is fast, exciting and extremely entertaining to watch,’’ a college professor, who regularly travelled from Cuttack for the games, said.
The moment your cab or auto driver realised you were heading to the Kalinga Stadium, an innocent request for a pass was inevitable. There was a news report, in fact, about a certain auto driver who would offer his services for a day for free in exchange for match passes. There was a genuine buzz around the city during the tournament. Odisha not only loves hockey, but knows it too. Parents could be seen explaining the rules, especially during penalty corners, to their kids. Every person in the stadium was aware of the permutations and combinations. And the phones rarely came out during the matches, only for a picture or selfie perhaps. People revere the sport here.
After all, Bhubaneswar has been a conveyor belt of talent, with dozens of India internationals emerging from the tribal villages of the vibrant state. Even in far-off villages like Saunamara, home to several India internationals, including Dispan and Amit Rohidas, the hockey fever was at its peak. At six in the evening, the village put up a deserted look. Everyone had completed their tasks to sit in front of their TV sets, praying that the daily electricity cut wouldn’t coincide with their game of hockey.
We can draw parallels here with PyeongChang, a small city in South Korea, that earned the right to host the Winter Games after a decade of failed attempts. The city, with less than 50,000 residents, also underwent a transformation for the games, with the organisers leaving no stone unturned to ensure all the facilities were up to world standards. There’s a trickle-down effect of hosting major events that benefit locals. For the Bhubaneswar event, more than 100 new buses were deployed, 100 e-toilets were constructed and bicycle docking stations set up across the city.
“When I was a player, we used to cry about not having enough spectators at the stadium to watch the game. Now, the stadiums are full of spectators, but people are crying about not getting tickets. I have so many friends who asked me to arrange passes, but I had to politely decline because I hardly have any,” Dilip Tirkey, India’s most capped hockey player, said during the tournament.
Passion for the sport aside, there were several practical reasons to choose a smaller city like Bhubaneswar to host the mega event, traffic being the first. With special shuttle services, proper planning and well-managed traffic management, the roads around the stadium remained unclogged during the tournament. It would have been virtually impossible for a city like Delhi to pull off that feat. It’s only fair that a state with such undying passion for the sport got an opportunity to host the World Cup.