Vishal Kumar Dev: Sports a priority for Odisha

‘Being a state that started from nothing, we have garnered so much attention from international-level championships and tournaments that today we have become one of the top choices for any international sporting event.’

Vishal Kumar Dev says Odisha has tied up with some eminent sportspersons and organisations for the promotion of various sports within the state.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Odisha, the newest destination for sporting activities in the country, won the Sportstar Aces Award for the Best State for the Promotion of Sports. Vishal Kumar Dev, Odisha’s commissioner-cum-secretary for sports and tourism, spoke to Sportstar about the state’s vision for promoting sports in a big way.

After the successful conduct of the Hockey World Cup, what big-ticket events is Odisha eyeing to host?

After the HWC, we organised a four-nation football competition, the Hero Gold Cup (February 9-15) involving the national women teams of Myanmar, Iran, Nepal and host India at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. We are significantly enthusiastic about this event.

And after the massive success of the inaugural edition of the Hero Super Cup in 2018, the Kalinga Stadium will now host its second edition in March-April 2019. The Super Cup will bring the best of national and international footballers to Odisha, as top teams of both the I-League and the Indian Super League will compete in a super exciting knockout format of the competition. What makes the Kalinga Stadium the ideal venue for this competition is that it is one of the few grounds in the country that is capable of handling so much of regular footballing action over a period of about 20 days.

Along with football, we are also hosting one of the three Hockey Series finals from June 6-16. International Hockey Federation president Narinder Batra had announced it during the post-match presentation ceremony of the HWC last year. This qualifier is open to national teams that are not playing in the hockey Pro League.

Odisha will also host the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships from July 17-22. After the successful conduct of the 80th Senior National Table Tennis Championships at the JN Indoor Stadium, Cuttack, TTFI deemed us to have the right infrastructure for the sport and therefore granted us the hosting rights.

Towards the end of the year, we will be occupied with the Asian Rowing Championships.

Has the state tied up with some big sportspersons for the promotion of various sports? Who are they and how is this going to help?

We have tied up with some eminent sportspersons and organisations for the promotion of various sports within the state. To begin with, ace badminton player Pullela Gopi Chand’s Badminton Foundation and Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd. are setting up a high-performance centre for badminton, providing athletes with the highest level of badminton facilities and coaching. Renowned shooter Abhinav Bindra’s Targeting Performance Centre, powered by Rungta Mines and the government of Odisha, will soon start functioning in the state. Equipped with 21st century cutting-edge technology, this centre will ensure that athletes and non-athletes alike improve their performance, efficiency and fitness.

Further, the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation has partnered with the state government to help take shooting to the next level. TENVIC Sports, run by former India cricket captain Anil Kumble, is soon building a high-performance centre for weightlifting in Odisha. They have joined hands with the KJS Ahluwalia Group in furtherance of strengthening the talent-spotting prowess and capability.

The Reliance Group will help run a high-performance centre for athletics, which will be a platform for the best local and regional talent to train under renowned experts and hone their skills with the aim of bringing glory to the nation. JSW Sports’ Bengaluru FC is helping in setting up and operating a high-performance centre in the state for football. The All India Football Federation and Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation with Odisha Sports Development and Promotion Company will also promote football in Odisha by launching a development programme for youth footballers. JSW Sports will also provide international standard coaching to talented swimmers by opening a high-performance centre.

Lastly, the Naval Tata Hockey Academy, Odisha, is all set to bring world-class hockey coaches and trainers with the aim to deliver high-performance training for hockey at the Kalinga Stadium. Through this, a structured, high-quality international level training will be provided at the grassroots level for all these priority sports of Odisha.

How is the promotion of sports helping the state publicise itself as a brand?

Odisha has a clear intent on being known as a global sports destination. By promoting many high-decibel national- and international-level competitions, we aim to become one of the emerging hubs for sports in the country. This gives us an incredible opportunity to showcase the state as a brand with a unique sporting environment, various investment opportunities and incredible manufacturing prowess.

Being a state that started from nothing, we have garnered so much attention from international-level championships and tournaments that today we have become one of the top choices for any international sporting event. From football, hockey, rugby, swimming to athletics, the state has already hosted several major international sports events. So to say that the amount of effort, interest and energy that is being put in by the government and people associated in promoting sports and honing talent, it has helped the state publicise itself as a brand.

And after the massive success of the inaugural edition of the Hero Super Cup in 2018, the Kalinga Stadium will now host its second edition in March-April 2019.   -  Biswaranjan Rout


What is the state doing for promotion and development of sportspersons and infrastructure at the grassroots level outside the capital city?

Odisha is the first state in the country to organise tribal sports with an objective to identify the hidden sporting talents of tribal youth and provide them with a proper platform for participation in state- and national-level competitions. For this purpose, our chief minister launched the Tribal Sports Meet on December 18, 2017. The tribal sports competitions were organised at block and district levels from December 2017 to January 2018, wherein around 1.31 lakh tribal youth participated in various individual and team events.

Interestingly, a new sub-scheme, Biju Yuva Vahini, has been designed under the flagship scheme Biju Yuva Sashaktikaran Yojana, which envisages nurturing leadership and volunteerism, promoting a culture of sports and sportsmanship, healthy living among youth, establishing vibrant youth connect platforms and engaging with youth across the state. Biju Yuva Vahinis (informal voluntary youth groups) have been formed across all gram panchayats and urban local bodies of the state. This programme has been designed to promote leadership and spirit of volunteerism as well as promotiton of art and culture, sports and scientific temper among youth through social actions.

This initiative will come handy when we are talent-scouting for our 16 sports hostels covering 12 disciplines. The students here are selected through a three-tier selection process from the block-district-state level. Talented ones are also admitted directly through lateral entry keeping in view their achievement in different tournaments. The age of entry for fresh talents is below 12 years and for lateral entry it is below 20 years, and the athletes can continue up to the age of 25 basis their performance. The department follows a pyramid structure in selecting the entries to different hostels based on their age group for imparting systematic coaching in team games such as football and hockey.

Furthermore, the Odisha government plans on taking the game to youngsters by organising more domestic tournaments in and around bastis and villages. Our Sundargarh belt is mostly populated by the Oraon, Munda, Kisan and Kharia tribes, all of whom breathe hockey. We are, therefore, spreading our sports infrastructure by setting up four satellite stadiums with world-class infrastructure in four other municipal corporations – Cuttack, Berhampur, Sambalpur and Rourkela. This includes facilities like multi-purpose indoor halls with a provision for gyms, indoor games such as badminton and table tennis, a minimum standard-size swimming pool, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, playfields for football and other outdoor sports, administrative building with training halls and conference halls. The extended support of BYV volunteers will help us spread the word to other districts.

Apart from training, the government is also invested in recognising the efforts and achievements of the players through the medium of cash payments and rewards. We have enhanced the cash prize for winning gold medal in the Olympic Games to Rs1 crore (for individual events) and 50 per cent of the said amount for team events.

Is the sports budget going to increase in the years to come?

Sports are a priority for the state of Odisha and thereby the budget will accordingly reflect that and rise in the years to come, be it for the functioning of ongoing state initiatives, purchase of sports equipment, organisation of national and international competitions, assistance to elite athletes or international-standard coaching camps, maximum financial assistance will be given. Also, the state will not shy away from allocating extra funds towards bringing international competitions of repute to the state.

Since India is bidding for the next HWC, will Odisha be interested in hosting the women’s event for the first time in the country?

Since we have just hosted the men’s Hockey World Cup, this shall be discussed internally before making a decision.

What does the Sportstar Aces Award mean to Odisha government?

The Sportstar award is one of the most reputed ways of recognising outstanding achievement in sports. As a state that’s been associated with a sport like hockey for more than 100 years, it is indeed an honour to be acknowledged for it. We have always maintained that Odisha is not just about pristine beaches and heritage sites that add colour to the state’s tourism potential, but is also capable of hosting sporting events of international calibre as well as develop sporting talent that makes the nation proud. This award is a testament to it all.