Affording sport an exalted status!

Sports is beyond politics, it's about building a healthy and fit society, says Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik as his state plays host to Hockey World Cup 2018.

Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, unveils the men’s hockey World Cup trophy at the Kalinga Stadium. Odisha is promoting sport big time.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

In the run-up to the men’s hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik speaks of the state’s passionate support for the game. He also shares Odisha’s desire to be the country’s sports hub.

This sporty avatar of Odisha is very different from when you took charge of the state 18 years ago. What made you focus on this transformation? Was it the success of Odisha sportspersons nationally and internationally?

There is a transformation of Odisha in every sector today, which is quite evident in the improvement of various parameters compared to 18 years ago. We have been focusing on the main social and economic development schemes for a long time. In recent years, we have been trying to focus on sports as well, especially in view of the potential of our talented youth and the achievements of our sportspersons in various fora. We believe that there is a vast, hidden sporting talent in the state which needs to be nurtured and mentored in a systematic manner.

What is the message and vibe you want Odisha to send out to the world through this mega event, the World Cup?

The hockey men’s World Cup is going to be our biggest international event so far. We have built one of the best hockey stadiums and hope to be a gracious host, and welcome the teams and guests from across the world. It is a demonstration of the capacity of the state to host such a mega event and we hope the visitors will have a wonderful time experiencing our nature and culture, apart from enjoying the matches.

You want hockey to be notified as India’s national game and have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make this official. How has the Centre responded?

Hockey is the national game in the hearts and minds of the people of India. Students read it as national game in various books, though it is not officially notified so. We urged the central government to notify hockey a national game and hope it will be accepted.

Odisha has plans to set up high-performance sporting centres. Are you building towards making the state the sports hub of the country to hold other international events — in badminton, tennis, football, and athletics, among others — too?

Recognising the potential of the immensely talented youth of our state in sports, we have decided to set up high-performance centres in various sports disciplines. We hope to soon set up these centres in partnership with the corporate sector and eminent sportspersons. We indeed aspire to become a sports hub of the country and dream of making our youth perform and win medals at international events and bring laurels to the country.

Patnaik being greeted by the World Cup mascot, a turtle named Olly, during a friendly match at the Biju Patnaik Stadium, Rourkela.   -  PTI


You offer big rewards for international success to sportspersons from Odisha. That is well documented. Please share your system for grassroots support to up-and-coming talent.

Grassroots development of sports along with high-performance centres and incentives for athlete performance are needed to create a proper ecosystem for sports talent to flourish. We understand the need for development of sports right from the school level. We have sports hostels across the state to nurture talent. We have also started tribal sports meets to encourage the talent among the tribal youth. The Biju Yuva Vahini, a scheme on volunteerism, is primarily focused on actively engaging with youth in every village and ward of the state. We give sports equipment to these youth clubs and conduct competitions right from the panchayat to district level.

How will you respond to critics who accuse you of using the World Cup to boost your political prospects ahead of the next assembly and general elections?

Sports is beyond politics. It’s about building a healthy and fit society. It’s about actively engaging the youth and streamlining their talent. It’s about our patriotism whenever the Indian flag is hoisted in international events. Organising the World Cup is just another event in our endeavour to make Odisha a sporting hub of the country.