The state of sports in India, other than cricket, has always been a matter of serious concern. While the country has the wealthiest cricket board and an undue influence in world cricket administration in general, other sports remain largely obscure and unpopular.
In the last five years, there has been some change in this. India’s performance at the Summer Olympics in 2020, while not ideal, received much adulation from the larger public. The gold-winning track and field athlete Neeraj Chopra was catapulted to a kind of fame that few non-cricket sportsperson can claim. In the meantime, the Indian field hockey team also received much support and attention from the general public after winning Bronze. This happened despite many structural difficulties that the hockey team faced.
Odisha has played an extremely significant role in drawing attention to hockey. In 2018, the state government decided to sponsor the Indian hockey men’s and women’s team. This was also the year when the 14th edition of the Hockey World Cup was held in Odisha. The cynicism was put to rest when the ceremony was inaugurated with the sort of pomp and splendour that has few rivals. Featuring the legendary AR Rahman, Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, Odisha managed to organize a ceremony that was not only unique in the history of Indian hockey but in the history world hockey as well.
As Odisha braces to host the world cup again, the preparations are just as good, if not better. The city of Bhubaneswar is all decked up (for lack of a better word) with storytelling, music, art competitions, graffiti and dance in streets while beautiful wall paintings with diverse themes can be glimpsed on the city walls. Complementing hockey world cup are international food fests and music concerts featuring top artists of the country. All of these not only help in building a mood of celebration among the citizens but also help in elevating the significance of hockey world cup. In this, the Odisha government has succeeded as the seats in hockey world cup are already sold out for the most part.
There are important lessons here for other states. Every sport needs a dedicated fan-base to prosper. By sponsoring the hockey team, the Odisha government has paved the way for the people of the state to look at hockey as their own sport. Even though Odisha has always had excellent hockey players, the popularity of the sports as a whole is a relatively recent phenomenon for which the government deserves credit.
Similarly, we would be in a much better place if every state of India adopted a sport other than cricket with as much zeal as the Odisha government. The people of West Bengal, for instance, already have a love for football. Similarly, Tamil Nadu has a dedicated tennis fan-base while Haryana does well in Wrestling. Should the state governments resolve to further popularize these sports, it is absolutely possible that every state will become a dedicated hub for a specific sport.
Critics often point out that the priorities are misplaced. Shouldn’t we be focusing on, say, improving the state of education instead of engaging in elaborate pomp and show? This criticism is misplaced. Both are not exclusionary. Moreover, the celebration of a sport with such pomp and show will not only help the economy of the state but will also be looked at as the ideal place to invest in the future. Through its zeal, Odisha has shown the way for other states to follow. It has become a case-study for success, for lack of a better word. Whether other states follow or not depends largely now on the will.
The credit, however, shouldn’t go solely to the government. It is, after all, the people of Odisha who are most enthusiastic about the sports. The government is merely giving a structural form to the will of the people.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author's own and have nothing to do with OTV's charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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