Odisha FC director: We had big issue with infrastructure in New Delhi
Odisha FC director Rohan Sharma opens up on the reasons behind shifting base from New Delhi, challenges faced by Delhi Dynamos and plans for the club at its new home.
Rohan felt the lack of community engagement was the reason for failure to attract large crowds at the Jawahrlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. PHOTO: ISL/SPORTZPICS
India Super League club Delhi Dynamos was rebranded as Odisha FC after the club owners signed a long-term agreement with the Odisha State government on Saturday. The club will now switch base to Bhubaneswar and starting from the sixth season of the ISL, the team will play its home matches at the Kalinga Stadium.
The agreement sees the government provide the Kalinga Stadium and training pitches for free of cost, while it will also help with lodging facilities for the club's youth team. In a chat with Sportstar, club director Rohan Sharma spoke about the various aspects that led to the move, his vision with the club and the kind of impact the club is looking to create in Odisha.
What prompted this move to Odisha and how did the events transpire?
We never really wanted to actually move in the beginning. When we bought this club, we believed that we wanted it to be in Delhi. However, the factors changed and we had some major issues. We had a big issue with the infrastructure in New Delhi and needed a revenue structure to help run the club. I understand it is very inappropriate to use football and money in the same sentence but as you know, you need money to run a club.
I know there was a very popular picture of my father and the Odisha CM (Naveen Patnaik) a while ago (that suggested the club was going to shift to Odisha) but we had never thought about it at the time. The Odisha government eventually made a formal approach and we realised the ministry is offering us a lot. They're offering us the stadium and three practice grounds. And when it comes to infrastructure, we would, for the first time, be in control of the stadium.
Could you elaborate on some of the issues the club faced in the five years in New Delhi?
The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is a beautiful venue and has great practice grounds, but we had to take permission every year and had to pay crores of rupees for refurbishment and the practice grounds. And I could not put up banners either. Like I have said in the past, we wanted to get the Delhi University Stadium, which would have been a lot easier. But that did not work out, and the Ambedkar Stadium is the next best option but the refurbishment costs were more than what I'd pay at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for a year and even then it was privately owned. Many local teams use the stadium and we would not get exclusive rights to it.
Odisha FC director Rohan Sharma (far right) during the ISL player draft.
I wasn't getting the support I wanted. I did want not to move the club, but I really didn't have an option. The one nice thing about Bhubaneswar is that I feel like they're making an extra effort to make me feel welcome and they're doing whatever they can to grow the sport.
The club found it difficult to attract crowds in New Delhi. How do you plan on tackling that aspect in Bhubaneswar?
Delhi was a very big city and even though we had a lot of programs, one of our shortcomings was community engagement. Bhubaneswar is a smaller area and we can do more and pack more in a smaller area. I want to make sure that this club feels like an Odia club, that's why I didn't want it to have a western name. I am very admirable of how FC Goa made itself a Goan club and I want to do the same. I want to make this feel like an Odia club so that no matter if you're a driver or a miner or a student, you feel like this is your club. I don't want it to seem like a gimmick. Now that we are here, we're here, and we are not going back.
Odisha has lapped up hockey and has become the go-to destination for hockey tournaments in India. Do you intend on making a similar impact with football now?
The State's logo has a hockey stick and a football. I now want to do what hockey has done with football. I see everyone talking about hockey here and I want to make them talk about football too. I don't want to replicate hockey's success story, I want to make it better. I want people to come to the games no matter where they live. One thing nice about the small area is that I can get deep into the society and make sure the people identify themselves with their club. Everything has to go back to the community here.
Dynamos finished a disappointing eighth in the points table in the last two ISL seasons. PHOTO: M. Vedhan
Tell us a little more about the agreement with the government. You will also be sharing the stadium with the Indian Arrows team...
We’ve signed an agreement that will go on for over five years. They are giving us the stadium and the practice grounds and that makes me happy.
I was spending insane amounts on stadiums and practice grounds in Delhi and to have that for free now is a huge financial boost for the club. And I can decorate the stadium too! We will be sharing the training the pitch with the Indian Arrows and I am happy that we can share the space with the future football stars of India.
There have been mixed reactions on the club's decision to move from Delhi to Odisha. What is your take on it?
I know people will say we're money hungry and we're doing it just for this [money]. They're right in one way because this does make an impact because money does help run a club. But at the same time, my end aim remains to develop Indian players and I'm excited to continue this in Odisha. I can't go back to any other city, honestly, then we become like a caravan. I can't afford to do this again. For me, from now on, it is Odisha. My whole focus is on making Odisha FC now.