The accolades have been pouring in from all over the place. Hockey stars like Viren Rasquinha, PR Sreejesh and Dillip Tirkey have hailed the move as the dawn of a new era in India’s national game with Tirkey dubbing it as a sign of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s commitment to Indian hockey. Most Odias have welcomed it as something that would put Odisha firmly in the national hockey map. But in the general euphoria over Naveen Patnaik’s ‘masterstroke’, very few have stooped to think if the Odisha government’s decision to sponsor the Indian hockey team for the next five years in a first of its kind deal worth Rs 150 crores would really help the development of Odisha hockey in a major way.
“The state government could have laid an astro turf in each of the state’s 30 districts with the Rs 150 crores to be spent on the sponsorship deal,” says Sanatan Pani, the doyen of sports journalism in Odisha. To put things in perspective, only Bhubaneswar, Rourkela and Sundargarh have astro turfs at present. Mr. Pani is convinced that the five-year sponsorship deal is nothing but an exercise in gaining political mileage at the cost of the public exchequer. And it is not as if Rs 150 crores is all that the Odisha government would spend on the deal. Add to it the glittering event in New Delhi where the team jerseys with the Odisha logo were released, estimated to be worth at least Rs 5 crores, the few crores more that the government must have spent on full page, colour advertisements on all major newspapers in the state today and sundry other expenses that the government is bound to incur over the next five years in promoting itself on the pretext of promoting the game. And one is not even positing it as an anachronism in a state where poverty, malnutrition, farmers’ suicides and appalling health care services are endemic!
It was obviously the tremendous mileage earned during the Hockey World League (HWL) in December last year that whetted the appetite of the Odisha government to go in for a never before deal to sponsor the Indian hockey team for the next five years after the existing deal with Sahara was abrogated. The League had at least served the purpose of rekindling an interest in the game among people in Odisha, besides resulting in significant improvements in the facilities available at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, the venue of the tournament. But the Rs 150 crore deal with the Hockey India (HI) has no such redeeming features. There is precious little that hockey or Odisha would gain in the process. All it would do is to showcase the Naveen Patnaik government as the new found savior of hockey and give the people of the state an opportunity to wallow in Odia pride. So overwhelmed have we been with this misnomer called ‘Odi a pride’ that no one has bothered to ask the government how much was actually spent on holding the HWL and the 22nd Asian Athletics Championship in Bhubaneswar before that. For reasons that are all too obvious, neither has the state government bothered to come out with the figures of the actual expenditure. Those in the know say there is the whiff of a scam in the organization of the two marquee events. The officials concerned have struck a gold mine in sports promotion while the BJD government is only too happy to play into their hands as long as it gives it some much needed mileage ahead of the next elections, they say.
Apart from the question of whether Rs 150 crores is worth spending in one of the poorest states of the country, the sheer incongruity of a state sponsoring the national team has been surprisingly glossed over in the government led euphoria over the deal. Does it not appear to be a case of the bogie pulling the engine? How can the members of our National Hockey Team wear uniform that bears the name of just one province of the Union of India in bold letters? Doesn’t the name of the state of Odisha in bold letters on the uniform of our national team belittle India?
No one raised a finger when the Odisha government floated Kalinga Lancers, one of the teams in the Indian Hockey League. But can our National Team in just any sport event remain a national team or retain its national character when the players wear the name of just one state on their uniform? Is India so starved of corporate houses that a state government has to step in to sponsor the Indian hockey team? Did Hockey India exhaust all possible options to rope in a corporate sponsor before inviting a state government to sponsor the national team? The Union Sports Ministry must look into the role of SAI officials and the ad agency that have helped clinch the ‘deal’.
It is time we stopped skimming the surface and dug deep into an issue before going gaga over something. If that means playing spoilsport to the government’s design to fool us by tugging at Odia vanity, so be it.