The Indian Men’s and Women’s Hockey teams which brought laurels to the country with their stellar performance in the recently-concluded Tokyo Olympics 2020 received a rousing welcome after their arrival in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.
It was a fitting tribute for both the Men’s team which clinched a Bronze medal at Olympics after a lull of 41 years on August 5, defeating Germany 5-4 in a thrilling play-off encounter and the Women’s team which came fourth in the final standings making the Nation proud.
After their arrival at the Biju Patnaik Internation Airport (BPIA) at 11 am, the team members were welcomed by the Odisha Sports Minister, Sports Secretary and former Captain Dilip Tirkey. Eventually, the players were taken to hotels in a special carcade. Even the hotel left no stone unturned in making their arrival a grand affair with life-size posters and hoardings adorning the main gate and folk dancers escorting them into the hotel with great pomp and show.
Later, the players attended a photoshoot at the Kalinga Stadium in the State Capital and addressed the media in a press conference.
Interacting with mediapersons, Manpreet Singh, the captain of India men's national field hockey team since May 2017 said, "In 2008, we did not even qualify for the Olympics. But things have changed over the years, and the results are also showing. Now, India has improved its position in world rankings."
Asked about his experience in Odisha, he said, "We got a lot of love and affection from Odisha during the last World cup that was played in Bhubaneswar. That gave a boost to all of us."
He hoped that Naveen Patnaik, who himself was a hockey player during his schooldays, will continue to sponsor the team for the next five to 10 years.
The Vice Captain of the team Birendra Lakra said, “The performance of our players has visibly improved since the introduction of Hockey India League. The young guns emerging from the league have added value to the National team.”
Similarly, Rani Rampal, the skipper of Indian Women’s Field Hockey team said, “I think Hockey lives in the hearts of the people of Odisha, which we cannot see anywhere else. They might not know the nuances of the game but they gather in great numbers in the stadium to cheer for their team.”
Meanwhile, India goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh suggested that all sports, including hockey, should be introduced in the school curriculum to produce the best sportspersons for the future.