The state of Odisha in eastern India has established itself as the country’s brand ambassador for hockey. Since the 2014 Champions Trophy, the state government has injected millions to regularly host international events, including the next World Cup in 2023.
While Odisha has made monumental efforts to promote the game internationally, her core agenda has taken a back seat.
As of March, aspiring players enrolled in various state hockey academies have not been given the opportunity to train after the government closed training centers due to the pandemic.
“There are about 300 aspiring hockey players in different academies across the state. The government should have made arrangements for them to practice during the pandemic. Since the majority of players come from low-income backgrounds, there’s a good chance they’ll be doing odd jobs to survive and not doing any home fitness work, ”a coach said.
Despite allocating Rs 100 crore in 2018 to sponsor the national men’s and women’s hockey teams for five years, Odisha’s sports department neglected the poor training conditions at the local level.
Photos taken last weekend of AstroTurf’s facilities in Sundargarh and Rourkela, the state’s two main hockey training centers, reveal that Odisha’s sports think tank has ignored grassroots development.
With the exception of an academy in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, the training facilities of other hockey centers are in a state of neglect.
“The aspiring players of the Sundargarh and Rourkela hockey academies are training in deplorable conditions. The grass is worn out. It is dangerous to play hockey on slippery and worn surfaces. The government has not yet replaced it with a new synthetic surface, ”said a hockey coach from Sundargarh.
Last week, Amit Rohidas and Birendra Lakra, members of the Indian men’s Olympic bronze medalist team, were congratulated by the state government. The duo received a cash incentive of Rs 2.5 crore each and government jobs.
Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo, members of the women’s team which finished fourth, each received Rs 50 lakh.
While it’s encouraging to see elite hockey players getting their due, there has been negligible investment locally over the past two or three years, another coach said.
“We haven’t seen any progress at ground level over the past two or three years. If the government continues to ignore the development group, it seems doubtful that Odisha will make any representations in hockey at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The Rourkela hockey academy has 150 players, including 75 girls, in the age group from under 12 to under 18.
“There is no suitable ground to play on. The slippery and dirty surface can cause serious injury to players, ”said a hockey official.
Sundargarh has two hockey academies. While one is run by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the other is run by the state government.
The players from the two training centers share a common territory. The SAI training center hockey field was replaced in 2007, but it is in poor condition these days, a Sundargarh player said.
An official said the proposal to change the turf was sent to ISC headquarters in New Delhi three years ago, but there had not yet been a response.
“A proposal to replace the hockey turf in Sundargarh was sent to SAI headquarters in 2019. We have no communication on when the old turf will be replaced with a new one,” the SAI official said under cover. of anonymity, as he is not allowed to speak to the media.
Sandip Pradhan, Managing Director of SAI, was not available for comment.
A few years ago, Hockey India (HI) banned competitions at New Delhi’s iconic Shivaji Stadium after the turf became dirty and slippery there.
“Odisha hockey experts involved in shaping the careers of young players ignore the fact that playing on worn surfaces is not good for the health of aspiring players,” said another state coach. .
The SAI Sundargarh hostel has 30 girls aged 14 and over, while the state government boys’ academy has players aged 12 and over.
“The SAI Sundargarh Academy has only one territory. When the SAI girls’ team has completed their training, the boys are allowed to train, ”said a state government official.
The Rourkela hockey training center has 150 players, including 75 girls. There are two lawns, neither in good condition.
“The grass is over 14 years old. It should be replaced. It’s not good to play because the surface has been damaged, ”said a coach.
In the 2019 and 2020 editions of the National Junior Hockey Championships, the Odisha Men’s Hockey team won the title. However, the majority of young players have not gotten any jobs and are doing odd jobs to survive.
“Only four players in the 2019-2020 group have a job. Two players got jobs in the customs service and two got jobs in the railroad. Others are still looking for jobs, ”said a national junior player.
The state government also has a hockey academy in Bhubaneswar where players aged 18 and over are enrolled. Although there are currently 60 players, including 30 girls, all training centers have been closed since March due to the pandemic, a coach said.
“Training centers across the states have been closed since March due to Covid-19,” one of the academy players said.
Dilip Tirkey, former Indian skipper and chairman of the Odisha Hockey Promotion Council, said he was aware the Sundargarh Hockey Academy turf needs to be replaced. However, Dilip could not provide a timeline for the end of the project.
“The lawn at the Sundargarh academy is in poor condition. It is not good to train. Hope it will be changed soon. Relevant officials have been made aware of the situation, ”Tirkey said.
Tirkey, who oversees local development in the state, hasn’t been able to shake things up, even in his own backyard. He planned to set up hockey facilities in his village of Saunamara, in the Sundargarh district.
“The leveling of the land has been done, but the process of laying the sod has not yet started. I hope it will start in the next few months.
The proposal to improve the state’s hockey ecosystem by building 17 new hockey fields in the Sundargarh area is also on hold. Tirkey hopes the project will start soon.
“I hope things will start to move soon,” he added.