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Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

After the successful hosting of the 2018 Men's Hockey World Cup at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha is all geared up to organise the forthcoming Junior Men's Hockey World Cup 2021 next month. Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera spoke about the challenges to host the grand tournament amid the Covid-19 pandemic and other aspects of Odisha sports in a tete-a-tete with Odishatv.in. Excerpts...

Q: The Odisha government got very little time to host the Junior Hockey World Cup. How much prepared you are considering that it’s pandemic time?

A: During the 2018 Men's World Cup Hockey, we got only six months to prepare and organise the high-voltage event successfully. The world recognised us and Odisha got a brand value. After 2018, there is no looking back. We have organised many more FIH events successfully at Kalinga Stadium.

Q: Don't you think that it's too much risky to organise such a grand tournament in the State given that the virus is around and active? There are chances the situation may aggravate any time.

A: We know there is a risk of Covid pandemic. But we are well prepared to organise the tournament while maintaining all the guidelines of SRC and the Government of India.

Q: What are the special arrangements in place keeping in view of the pandemic scare?

A: Since Covid-19 pandemic is going on, cricket and football matches are being organised world-wide in bio bubble environment. We are fully prepared to provide the same sort of facilities to all the teams taking part in the tournament.

Q: As far as bio bubble environment is concerned, it's taking a huge toll on the mental side of the players. Are there any special arrangements in place to take care of the mental aspect of the players?

A: All these technical aspects will be taken care of by our medical team as well as FIH.

Q: Three top teams have so far opted out of the tournament. Is it going to affect the intensity of the tournament?

A: Our priority and focus is to organise the matches. Indian men's team has won bronze medal in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. So, the expectation of the whole country is high. Since the last 18 months we have not been able to organise any hockey matches in Odisha. All are waiting eagerly for this grand tournament to kick-start.

Q: There are reports in some sections of the media that the Odisha government is organising big tournaments at the cost of development in grassroots. There are allegations that the State government is only organising big tournaments and constructing big stadiums for publicity, but they are neglecting the grassroots.

A: It's not true actually. We have been building mini stadiums at block levels and in urban local bodies. We have always prioritise the grassroots coaching and training. For national and international level players we have built 11 high performance centres at Kalinga Stadium only. Apart from those, we have been conducting grassroots training camps by various corporate houses in Sambalpur, Sundargarh, Deogarh and some parts of Dhenkanal district.

Q: Most of the mini stadiums built in various blocks across Odisha have been lying in dilapidated condition due to lack of proper maintenance. People are not coming to those stadiums to have any kind of sports activities. Weeds and creepers have covered those stadiums which are lying neglected.

A: Since last 16-17 months, there are no physical activities due to Covid-19. Even the students in our sports hostels went to their homes during that period. Because of the prevailing situation, some of the cases that you are mentioning might have cropped up. But we are aware about it and soon appropriate majors will be taken in that direction. We have renovated some district level sports complexes and gradually rest of the things will be taken care of.

Q: What about the long term approach of the State government regarding maintenance of those mini stadiums?

A: The vision of the government is to invest in coaching, training and building infrastructure. In the grassroots, we have built 314 mini stadiums in block levels and 149 minis stadiums in urban local bodies. Then in district levels we are building sports complexes. Then in national and international level we have our stadiums at Kalinga Stadium and another one is being constructed in Rourkela. Hockey, swimming, athletics and football like sports events are going up to the next level in the State. We have been organising matches at the State level and district level in various categories. Various sports competitions at the grassroots level have been postponed due to the Covid-19 situation. We are hopeful that soon there will be improvement in the pandemic situation and sports activities will resume at various levels including the grassroots.

Q: There are allegations that the State government is giving importance only to hockey and to some extent rugby while other sports disciplines are getting neglected.

A: We are primarily giving importance to four disciplines, but that doesn't mean that we are neglecting other sports disciplines. We are concentrating on the pockets across the State where players are flourishing in any particular discipline like hockey in Sundargarh, football in Mayurbhanj, archery in Keonjhar and volleyball in Malkangiri and Bolangir. We are focusing on regional basis. The government has decided to build 89 multipurpose indoor halls for badminton, table tennis, boxing, weightlifting and other disciplines at an estimated cost of Rs 693 crore in the next two years. We have to prioritise sports disciplines keeping an eye on the capability of players in different pockets. We have also reorganised the structural set-ups of sports hostels so that in a particular hostel there will be more players of one discipline which will be helpful for coaching and training

Q: Regularly reports are surfacing in the media that players of national and international repute are suffering and even struggling to make their ends meet in Odisha.

A: I am aware about those reports. But those players generally don't come under the guidelines fixed by our department in 40 sports disciplines. In two to three cases some of the players have been provided jobs, but for some reasons, they didn't join. Our department is taking these reports seriously and if any such cases come to our notice, we are taking immediate steps and sorting those out immediately.

Q: Para sportspersons in the State are often complaining and protesting that they are not considered on par with normal sportspersons and are not extended the same scopes and facilities. The government has assured them to look into their complaints several times, but nothing has been done so far.

A: The Chief Minister has taken things seriously. The file is with him and a decision in this regard will be taken very soon. The government is giving equal importance to all the sportspersons regardless of normal or differently-abled.

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