How Odisha nurtures Indian hockey

The Odisha Government, which sponsors the Indian hockey teams and has rewarded the national players for their sterling performance in the Tokyo Olympics, has entrusted the two homegrown stalwarts - Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla - to produce the next generation of star players.

Indian Hockey team goalkeeper PR Shreejesh receiving the reward from Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.   -  BISWARANJAN ROUT

Once Olympians Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla used to guard the Indian hockey team’s defence solidly at the highest level, these days the village mates from Sundargarh district have shouldered the responsibility to lift the standard of Odisha hockey, to nurture the inflow of talent.

The Odisha Government, which sponsors the Indian hockey teams and has rewarded the national players for their sterling performance in the Tokyo Olympics, has entrusted the two homegrown stalwarts to produce the next generation of star players. Tirkey has been given the dual responsibility of Odisha Hockey Promotion Council and as the chairman of the ad-hoc committee for hockey in Odisha, while Barla has been appointed the deputy director (coaching) with the primary objective of providing good coaching facilities to the youngsters. “The primary focus is on developing grassroots hockey. Initiatives like the 17 astro-turfs being laid in Sundargarh district and the academy in Bhubaneswar aim at providing better facilities and training to players at the grassroots level.

"Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik thinks youth can go forward through sports and how more youngsters can participate in sports. If the young ones can start practising on astro-turf and get good coaching from the beginning, then we can tap talent early and produce fine players in good quantity,” says Tirkey.

The Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre (ONTHHPC), which provides advanced training with latest facilities, has 30 girls and 31 boys as trainees and aims to raise the number to 40 each by the end of 2022. The trainees get quality residential facilities opposite their training field at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Amid the Covid-19 uncertainty, this has enabled them to train regularly in the safety of the bubble. The hostel has a study room, recreation rooms with table tennis tables and other board games along with TV and access to computers.

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Judicious use of the Abhinav Bindra Target Performance Centre (ABTP) is an integral part of the ONTHHPC programme which caters to physical fitness tracking, recovery management and rehabilitation process. A top-class gymnasium, international-standard swimming pool, enrolment of players in different schools, steps for holistic development of the trainees, support of a sports science team (consisting of a dedicated sports physiotherapist, strength and conditioning expert, sports nutritionist and mental trainer along with a sports scientist and data analyst) are among the facilities offered to the trainees.

What's more, they also get exposure to international players and teams and coaching by qualified coaches with technical support from the Bovelander Hockey Academy. While the State Government has provided all the infrastructure and ground support, Tata Trusts and Tata Steel provide the funding apart from managing the entire technical and operational part of the academy.

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Besides, the trainees, who join at the age of 13 years for a four-year programme, get a monthly stipend of Rs 1,500. A steady stream of tournament exposure readies them for tougher assignments, and to chase the dream of playing for the state and country. Apart from work at the grassroots level, Tirkey, a former India captain, feels organising big hockey events, including the World Cup, also boosts the sport. “Earlier, just being there in the World Cup was a dream. With Bhubaneswar hosting the 2018 World Cup, many people could see the iconic event in their own backyard. It raised the popularity of the sport in the state.

“Now, with a hockey centre like Rourkela co-hosting the 2023 edition of the World Cup, think of the impact it is going to have in that region. Hockey enthusiasts will see international and Indian stars in action with their own eyes. It can inspire many youngsters to take up the sport seriously,” says Tirkey.

He also thinks that the new 20,000-capacity international hockey stadium being built in Rourkela for the 2023 World Cup could serve as another hub for the sport in the state. “With world-class facilities, we can host camps and tournaments in Rourkela. Since the Jharsuguda airport is operational now, there are no issues of air connectivity,” says Tirkey.

Even as the overall development of hockey has been a priority for Odisha, the government has tied up with different business houses and world-class sportspersons to set up high performance centres in other sports -- including athletics, badminton, football, swimming, weightlifting and shooting -- to nurture talent. The state has announced construction of 89 indoor halls in urban centres to facilitate infrastructure for various indoor sports. These centres can also double up as shelters during natural calamities. The Odisha government has also collaborated with the Xavier Emlyon Business School to begin the country’s first Indo-French dual master’s degree programme in Sports Industry Management. “This step complements the other initiatives being taken by the state government. If we produce good sports industry managers, it will only enrich the whole sports ecosystem,” says Tirkey, a former Rajya Sabha member.

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