Odisha’s support system for sportspersons

With a robust sporting governance and finetuned welfare schemes for athletes, the state government speaks a language that sportspersons hold dear — monetary support, incentives and jobs.

The State's international exposure training programme has benefited Odisha’s premier track and field athlete Srabani Nanda (centre). Nanda, a manager with the Odisha Hydro Power Corporation, has been training in Jamaica for a while, and recently clocked a personal best of 11.36s in the 100 metres at an international invitational meet in Florida.   -  The Hindu

Odisha government has put its weight behind sports, aiming at a system that delivers glory on the field and sustains sportspersons beyond it.

With a robust sporting governance and finetuned welfare schemes for athletes, the government speaks a language that sportspersons hold dear — monetary support, incentives and jobs.

Odisha’s star athlete of yesteryear, ace hurdler Anuradha Biswal, in fact, believes the state’s support system has helped change people’s perception towards sports as a career.

Dilip Tirkey, former captain of India’s men’s hockey team, also acknowledges the change. “Back in my playing days, we had very limited exposure. But the state government under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has taken giant steps and the development is there for everyone to see. The government is not only promoting sports but also taking care of its sportspersons. Beyond the financial support, the government has also focused on giving jobs to sportspersons,” he says.

A major apprehension for sportspersons is social and financial security for the future. Keeping this in mind, Odisha government has reserved 1% of jobs across government departments and PSUs in the state (Sportsperson Identity Card are issued for this purpose) for meritorious sportspersons. Additionally, for meritorious sportspersons, Odisha has reserved ‘Group B’ and ‘C’ category jobs in state government and PSUs, along with direct entry into Odisha Police in ‘Group B’ and ‘C’ posts.

"Back in my playing days, we had very limited exposure. But the state government under Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, has taken giant steps and the development is there for everyone to see. The government is not only promoting sports but is taking care of its sportspersons and is providing the best of the facilities," says former India hockey team captain Dilip Tirkey.

 

Today, Odisha Police employs more than 100 sportspersons, and nearly 30 other sportspersons are with other government organisations, including East Coast Railway, NALCO and Odisha Mining Corporation.

This system sees homegrown talent such as Biswal and football icon Shradhanjali Samantaray, among others, have stable jobs in the state, which enables them to contribute to building sports in Odisha.

The sports department also has a uniform policy to recognise athletes and provide financial assistance. While there are hefty cash prizes for medals in the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and international meets, there is also a planned investment in talent before medals have been won. For instance, the state policy ensures cash rewards for youth, junior and sub-junior athletes.

The state’s planning also extends to an international exposure training programme for top athletes. Biswal, who holds the national record of 13.38s in 100m hurdles, backs this as a key move. “The rise of Odisha’s athletes in the national and global level has been possible because of the government’s various welfare measures and this international training programme has benefited athletes a lot. It was very different when I started my career,” says Biswal, who works as a manager with NALCO.

This programme has benefited Odisha’s premier track and field athlete, Srabani Nanda. Nanda, a manager with the Odisha Hydro Power Corporation, has been training in Jamaica for a while, and recently clocked a personal best of 11.36s in the 100 metres at an international invitational meet in Florida.

The state also encourages athletes to pursue coaching and sports management courses. The government, in association with the All India Football Federation and FAO, sponsors and organises education programmes for coaches and referees to benefit former footballers of the state.

The government, in association with Emlyon Business School and Xavier’s University, has set up a Centre of Excellence in Sports Management (XEBS). Several sportspersons including Jafar Iqbal, former captain of the Indian Blind Cricket Team, karateka Valena Valetina and Ranjita Behera, who represented Odisha at the Khelo India Winter Games, have been a part of the programme.

While celebrating the stellar careers of its sportspersons, Odisha also engages their expertise for planning and executing programmes for its sporting ambitions. Hockey star and Olympian Lazarus Barla has been appointed the deputy director of coaching. Barla has been entrusted with the responsibility for grassroots talent identification and hostel coaching in Sundargarh, a district known as the cradle of Indian hockey.

“Athletes must have a stable income and job security during and after their playing careers. The Odisha government has been providing jobs to almost all sportspersons. Today, parents are not afraid to allow their children to take sports as a career option as they are aware that the government is supporting athletes,” says Anuradha Biswal, who holds the national record of 13.38s in 100m hurdles.

 

In line with its aim to promote sports across disciplines, Odisha has supported less privileged young sportspersons by providing monthly stipends, quality accommodation and training across 16 sports hostels. Arjuna awardee and top para-athlete Pramod Bhagat, who won two gold medals at the BWF Para World Championships, was covered under the advanced training scheme in 2019.

Having showcased its organisational capabilities by successfully hosting national and international tournaments, Odisha has attracted significant private sector investment to scale up its sporting portfolio.

The government’s behind the scenes work promotes sporting excellence, while not leaving sportspersons behind. The importance of Odisha investing in sports and looking after sportspersons is not lost on its achievers. “Athletes must have a stable income and job security during and after their playing careers. So, in that aspect, the government has been providing jobs to almost all sportspersons. A lot has changed from my playing days and today, parents are not afraid to allow their children to take sports as a career option as they are aware that the government is supporting athletes by providing jobs and cash awards,” says Biswal.