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Is cyclone-stricken Odisha the best place for the FIH Hockey Series Finals?

Is cyclone-stricken Odisha the best place for the FIH Hockey Series Finals?

Sohinee Basu

Published: 11 May 2019 5:31 AM GMT
It has been a week since the coastal state of Odisha has been near ravished by the outrage of the super cyclone Fani which made a severe landfall on its shores during the wee hours of 4th May. The swirling tide of the gurgling Bay of Bengal lining the borders of the state lashed out as tempestuous winds uprooted trees, broke window panes, uplifted electric poles robbing electricity and mobile networks, at the same time.
In the rundown and devastating conditions of the state which has been readying itself to host the FIH Hockey Series Finals scheduled for 6th to 15th of June, things look somewhat dreary.
The impact of the cyclone which wheezed in with a wind speed of 175 km/hour took a toll on countless inhabitants of the weakling state aside from wreaking havoc to infrastructure and scrambling the lives and lifestyles of countless people by disrupting the routine. The capital city of Bhubaneshwar had decked up in recent history to host the 14th edition of the FIH organized Hockey World Cup in 2018. The Kalinga Stadium had revamped itself to witness the grand spectacle of the World Cup where Belgium went on to crown themselves as debut Champions. The Hockey Series takes place in two rounds, the open stage and the finals. The top nine teams present in the FIH World Rankings are allowed to qualify directly to the finals whilst the other lower ranked teams have to slug it out in the opens. The World Series Finals act as a qualifying tournament for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The finals take place in three halves. Each tournament will have eight teams out of which 3 will be direct qualifiers and the remaining 5 will be teams who have advanced from the opens. The first of them have already been held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur between April 23 to May 1st. Bhubaneshwar had been selected, by the FIH President Narinder Batra, to host the second leg of the tournament, owing to Odisha's excellent hosting of the Hockey World Cup last year. The third and the final stage of the tournament will reach its conclusion in Le Touquet, France. The teams will be eventually drawn to play a two-legged tie to determine seven qualified nations who will gain entry into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A view of damaged electricity lines in Puri in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani. (Photo: PTI) The concerns about Odisha's capability to host the FIH World Series Finals have been put under heavy scrutiny post the rampage by the cyclone Fani. The contribution of Odisha alone in promoting hockey just like any other popular sport like football and cricket deserves to be lauded. The Naveen Patnaik led state flourished because of the government's firm support in furthering the cause of hockey and highlighting its campaign simply not nationwide, but also worldwide. The Odisha Tourism had promoted marketing activities in July 2018 when it unfurled the mantra of “Odisha by morning, hockey by evening” campaign in London during the Women’s Hockey World Cup. More famously, the Odisha state government had launched the “Heartbeats for hockey” movement to reach out to sports lovers. The campaign asked sports lovers to pledge a heartbeat for hockey in a bid to lend support to the sport. The collected heartbeats which were pledged both digitally and on-ground was presented to the hockey captains at the cup’s grand opening ceremony inside the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar. Reportedly, around 2 crore heartbeats have been recorded to date and this signifies the grand success of the marketing plan issued by the Odisha government to help popularise the national sport of the country.
Being a weakling state, Odisha took care to pay heed to the warnings of the incoming cyclone and in an effort to minimize life loss had evacuated more than 11 lakh people to the numerous cyclone shelters in a matter of a day. 
Having already been victimized by the 1999 Odisha Cyclone which took a massive toll on the masses, Odisha chose to be better safe than sorry and took a handful of precautionary measures to battle the onslaught of Fani. This master step taken by the government has drastically helped reduce the number of casualties and only around 50 deaths have been recorded unofficially, which is a meager number considering the wrath the super cyclone possessed as it tore down the buildings and felled trees and tampered with electricity and communication lines thereby crippling the State. The country looked on at Odisha with aghast disbelief as nature's fury raged on the Holy state. While the sealine has been affected severely, especially tourist hotspots of Puri and Gopalpur, being on the receiving end of it, the capital city of Bhubaneshwar has also been considerably damaged by the cyclone.
The railway station in Puri, Odisha (Photo: The Indian Express) The concerns are at an all-time high with Odisha's fragile condition being focussed upon. Officials of the FIH looked into the case of whether Odisha can recover from the wounds inflicted by Fani and so far, have reached the conclusion that if nothing else, the Kalinga Stadium and it's surroundings can be prepared for the hosting of the World Series Finals. Initially, there have been speculations doing the rounds about taking a decision to shift the Finals to Lucknow or Raipur, however the firm assurance of the Odisha government, which is working day in and day out to bring back the State into a fully functional mode, along with Hockey India's intense belief in the Odisha government who hosted the World Cup so beautifully. https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/1125737809300447232 The reports from the Odisha officials mention that the Kalinga Stadium hasn't suffered any critical damages and can still be a suitable venue for the World Series Finals scheduled for the month of June. Although the remainder of the State has been severely affected including several parts of the capital city of Bhubaneshwar, it can be hoped that the government will speed up the rehabilitation and restoration process and bring things back to normal once again. The eight teams of Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, USA, Uzbekistan and host country India are looking towards Odisha with expectant eyes ahead of the World Series Finals which will give them a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As Odisha gets busy clearing up the debris left by Fani and bit by bit, edging towards normal conditions, our prayers stay with the State who has single-handedly helped in promoting the sport of hockey and bringing it back in the national headlines. We hope that the state can recover in time to host the World Series Finals and emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, only stronger and better in the near future.
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