Dilip Tirkey enjoys learning experience in his foray into politics

The former India hockey defender is a Rajya Sabha member of the Biju Janata Dal.

Dilip Tirkey has played 412 international matches for India.   -  M. Vedhan

He was the backbone of the Indian hockey men’s team during the late ’90s and noughties. As one of the world’s best full-backs, Dilip Tirkey made a definite mark at the world arena. The 39-year-old former India captain, who has featured in a total of 412 international matches, has been similarly successful in his post-retirement job as a Rajya Sabha member of Biju Janata Dal.

Here in Chennai on his way to Kovilpatti to be a special guest for the annual hockey tournament there, Tirkey spoke to Sportstar on Friday on a variety of issues.

His ambitious project, the mega rural hockey tournament, which started in December last was supposed to conclude in March. But due to the prevailing heat wave across India, the final round has now been postponed to August. “The tournament was a success in the way that more than 1400 teams from different villages in Odisha took part in the event held in 32 venues. We are keen to hold the semifinals and final in Bhubaneswar,” he said.

Tirkey said the kids enjoyed the atmosphere, but added that organising has had its share of problems. “It was difficult, we had logistical issues. Getting the kids to play who had little knowledge of the sport wasn’t easy. I am sure this tournament will not be an annual affair,” he insisted.

‘Plus points’

Tirkey said India’s third place finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was disappointing, but added that there have been quite a few positives. According to him, Mandeep Singh, who was one of the top-scorers (five goals) and full-back Gurinder Singh have been revelations. “They played really well. We should have done better, but we have to take the plus points,” he said.

With the World Cup scheduled in Bhubaneswar next year, Tirkey suggested that exposure trips should be given to the youngsters and it is incumbent on seniors to do well and maintain their fitness more or less on a par with the youngsters. “It is important to maintain the balance. If we attain consistency we can hope to be in the top four at the World Cup,” he said.

On his future in Biju Janata Dal, Tirkey said “It depends on what our boss [Biju Patnaik, CM of Odisha] says.”

But Tirkey is open to contest elections and take a plunge into active politics, or get a second term at the Upper House of Parliament. “Playing for the country has given me satisfaction. As a member of Rajya Sabha, it was a new field for me, it has been a learning experience. Talking for the people of Odisha on issues such as electricity, water supply, has given me immense pride. I have also done my bit to lay astro-turfs in several villages of Odisha. Politics, as I have learnt over the years, is not easy, but I am quite confident that I can manage,” he said.

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