After successfully hosting the group games of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Odisha is looking forward to a busy few months of sporting action. The state will host three major sporting tournaments including the men’s hockey World Cup next year.
Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar hosted all six matches, including India’s three group stage matches, starting October 11.
“For the under 17, we have the main stadium and another five training sites which have been developed, including the main pitch of the Kalinga stadium, all according to FIFA standards.
There were some challenges because of COVID to get everything in place, but somehow it has all come out very nicely,” Vineel Krishna, the Sports Secretary of Odisha told Sportstar.
Over 70 crores were spent to get the infrastructure ready for the World Cup, which included five football pitches – the main stadium and four practice pitches (Police Battalion Ground 1, Ground 2, the Capital High School Ground and another artificial turf in Unit 1).
Talking about the challenges posed by the pandemic, Krishna said there were logistic issues involved.
“During COVID, for example, some of this grass (pitches) was to be imported from the USA. So, there was a lot of clogging up the shipping lanes, so it delayed in coming (to India). We were constructing one artificial turf as part of the overall legacy program. That also got delayed.
During this period, the maintenance of the pitch got very complicated because people who are maintaining the pitch had gone back because of the pandemic and then bringing them back (was a challenge),” he said.
Kalinga Stadium’s seats were coloured pasapalli patterns – the signature prints of Sambalpuri sarees from the state. Unhindered by the rains, the artists got the stadium ready in late September.
“We wanted to change the entire seating for the FIFA upgrade, the whole sitting plan. There were suggestions from the artists that nowadays there are some graphics and all that they use to give a feel that the stadium is full, some random graphics,” said Krishna, “So, we thought, why should we use some random graphics when we have very good ethnic patterns in the Sambalpuri saris and Sambalpuri weaving community. Then the idea came, and we requested them to make some plans accordingly, and finally, it came out very beautifully.”
Odisha alone attracted over 33,700 fans for the matches – which is 88 per cent of the cumulative turnout at the previous edition of the tournament, in all matches. The state – under the Football for Schools programme – distributed over 43,000 training balls to over 2,000 schools.
“When we talk about women’s football, it is not just about the game or the sport. It goes beyond that – the social impact and how they look at woman empowerment,” said Krishna, “So, we have been conducting the football carnivals across schools and also inter-school football tournaments, which are going on as we speak, both for boys and girls, but especially for girls.”
“We hope that more girls will take to sports, not only as a fitness and health thing also, but it is very important that a girl, who might be very shy in her school, and if she takes up football, it will develop them personally,” he added.
From one World Cup to the other
With the World Cup done, the state will turn to another World Cup – this time in field hockey, next year.
But before that, the Indian Super League (ISL) action will resume in the football stadium (on October 23), while FIH Pro Men’s League will see India play New Zealand on October 28.
“So, now our peak sporting season is starting – the ISL matches, and, of course, hockey is the main thing in Bhubaneswar.
We have an additional challenge of doing it in Rourkela as a second venue, both for the Hockey World Cup and the Pro League matches later on. Entirely new infrastructure in terms of the stadium, the practice, the accommodation facilities, everything is coming up there,” said Krishna.
“I think in the coming week we’ll be having the pro leagues starting, which will set the pace for our progress for the Hockey World Cup. Since we have already done it in 2018, it is something like most of our systems are in place.”
He also added that though COVID cases have reduced in the country, the state has kept security protocols in place for public health and safety to ensure that the tournaments – like the U-17 Women’s World Cup – will take place smoothly.
“These are standard international tournaments, so security protocols, along with the police and disaster forces and fire safety, electrical safety – all are very standard things, which are checked before and during the tournament. In fact, we had NSG (National Security Guard) do a mock drill here just 2-3 weeks back,” he said.
He also added that Odisha was equipped with stringent COVID testing and hospitalisation during tournaments because it hosted the Junior Hockey World Cup in December 2021 – when coronavirus cases were much higher than they are now.
Team India’s run in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup may have ended early, but it did give the players and football fans a chance to enjoy a global carnival at home.
For Odisha – with the Indian Super League, the FIH Pro League and the World Cup ahead – the carnival, however, did not end on October 17. Instead, it is just starting.