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Sports carnival & more: Rourkela-Bhubaneswar gripped by Hockey World Cup fever

With exactly one month to go before Odisha hosts the 2023 Hockey World Cup, the state is getting decked up. But not everybody involved in the work are fully aware of what they are setting up.

Sports carnival & more: Rourkela-Bhubaneswar gripped by Hockey World Cup fever

Tazeen Qureshy

Updated: 11 Jan 2023 5:54 AM GMT

Rourkela: It is past noon and the winter sun isn't harsh. As the Biju Patnaik expressway, a multi-crore state highway which connects the major districts in western Odisha, terminates at Rourkela, the vision begins to blur due to the dust. There are heaps of concrete lying along the road every few metres and JCBs are in work mode.

At Hockey Chowk roundabout, one of the entry points of the city, women labourers are engaged in renovating the sidewalk.

"Park tiyari hauchi, kana pain janini. (A park is getting constructed here, but I don't know for what)," says Sanjukta in Odia.

"Stadium, stadium," intervenes another lady, and immediately resumes her work after refilling the cement bowl. Sanjukta follows her, after filling in with the work timings – she leaves her house at 6am in the morning and stays till 5pm – a routine she has been following for the last three weeks.

The sense of urgency echoes throughout the Rourkela city. Close to where the women are working, a group of young men are chatting with each other under the shade of a tree.

"We are electricians," Mukesh Lohar, one of them, introduces himself. "Once this construction is over, we will start decorating the sidewalks with fancy lights." Some of them in this group have come from neighbouring Jharkhand. They seem to have some information on why these activities are being carried out.

"Match hoga. Hockey stadium ban raha hai. (There will be a match. A hockey stadium is getting constructed.)"

Rourkela, the steel city of Odisha for its integrated steel plant - the Rourkela Steel Plant - is gearing up for the Hockey World Cup in exactly a month's time. The preparations are in the last stage and the entire city is getting a revamp.

The walls have been painted with murals of hockey players, and as a precursor to the World Cup, a 'Sports Carnival' has been launched to 'create a sporting atmosphere' in the city. Commercial flight operations are also expected to start from next month to transport players and officials to the venue.

Odisha has an established reputation of making elaborate arrangements as a host of international tournaments and this time seems to be no exception. In 2018, when it hosted the World Cup for the first time in the capital Bhubaneswar, the entire city was decked up and parallel events – including musical concerts, fan village and storytelling sessions - were organised at the Kalinga stadium and across the city.

This edition is expected to be bigger. In a reply to the State Assembly last month, Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera revealed the total expenditure of the 2023 Hockey World Cup is estimated at Rs 1098cr approximately, close to 16 times more than the previous edition. The cost includes the construction of the Birsa Munda Stadium, touted to be the biggest hockey stadium in the country.

"Overall, everything is on the right track. Unfortunately things had slowed down a bit during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Odisha state government has been proactive. The Chief Minister is himself taking a keen interest. City beautification drive is currently going on now. Chartered planes would be hired to transport the players from Bhubaneswar to Rourkela," says Hockey India president and former hockey captain Dilip Tirkey, speaking exclusively to The Bridge.

Hockey nursery gets first brush of WC craze

However, for Rourkela, which comes under the Sundergarh district, known as the nursery of hockey in Odisha, this is the first brush with an international tournament of such stature.

"In the previous World Cup, a lot of people from the western districts had not been able to travel to Bhubaneswar to watch the matches. This belt has a lot of hockey craze and therefore people are eagerly waiting. A lot of people are already contacting me for accommodation and ticket details," says the manager of a local hotel near the Rourkela railway station on condition of anonymity, adding that the hotel prices are also likely to go up, given the demand.

In Saunamara village, approximately 140kms from the stadium, locally known as the village of hockey stars - including former hockey captain Dilip Tirkey and current defender Amit Rohidas - there is some level of excitement building up.

"We try not to miss any matches. We had visited Bhubaneswar to watch the previous World Cup. There is no chance we would be missing the matches in Rourkela," says Golapi Rohidas, Amit's mother, adding that she is planning to travel to Bhubaneswar as well.

Rourkela will be holding 20 matches, including two matches of hosts India, against England and against Spain. The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar will host 24 matches including the group matches, quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals.

The Kalinga stadium is also getting a facelift ahead of the tournament. The turf has been re-laid, while four pitches have been laid in Rourkela certified by the International Hockey Federation.

Besides, an array of activities have been planned out in different cities to promote the extravaganza. The festivities, for instance, kicked off with the trophy tour on December 5, with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik handing the trophy to Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey. The trophy is currently touring 13 states and one union territory, before it returns to Odisha.

"I hope the Hockey Men's World Cup Trophy Tour will build excitement for the World Cup across India. We will be hosting 16 teams and the matches will be played in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. I am sure it will be a memorable World Cup for the teams and the fans," the Chief Minister quoted in a statement.

Similarly, a project called STAMP (Street Art and Mural Project) with seven artists of national and international repute has been launched to create artwork at major junctions in Bhubaneswar. In Cuttack's Barabati Stadium, which is a venue for international cricket tournaments, a 'celebration' is slated for January 11 next year.

The Hockey World Cup will be held from January 13 to 29, 2023.

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