On Feb 15, 2018, the current FIH & IOA President Narinder Dhruv Batra regarded Bhubaneswar as the 'Sports Capital of India'. On a day when Odisha government, in a first, became the first state to sponsor the national teams, Batra said, "While Delhi is the political capital, Mumbai the financial capital and Bengaluru the IT capital of India, Bhubaneswar is undoubtedly the sports capital of the country." Since then, there have been many legends who have regarded Bhubaneswar as the Sports capital of India. But very few know, how did this change happen? How did a city which was known only for its temples become a hub for sports in just a few years?
This didn't happen in the blink of an eye. Odisha's love for hosting major hockey events started back in the year 2013 when one of the best hockey stadiums of the country was set up in Bhubaneswar and after successfully hosting the Champions Trophy hockey tournament in 2014, Hockey India and International Hockey Federation (FIH) explored the city's facilities and the potential to organize such marquee tournaments. There has been no looking back since then.
From being the first state to sponsor a team in the Hockey India League (Kalinga Lancers) to sponsor the Indian National Hockey teams, Odisha has done it all under the visionary leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and with the efforts of top bureaucrats who have worked day in and day out, to bring glory to Odisha sports.
Slowly and steadily, Odisha has been rising the ranks and bringing several sports under its arms. The signing of MOUs with several corporates and sportspersons to set up High-Performance-Centers (HPCs) has been the cynosure of everyone's eyes.
Odisha, which is known as the cradle of hockey, has produced several international stars who have brought glory to the state in the past, started a State Level Tribal Sports Meet in 2017 which was held in 119 tribal dominated blocks across the state in Sub-Junior (below 14 years), Junior (14-17 years) and Senior (17-35 years) age groups.
Odisha was the first state to organize such a large-scale sports meet, exclusively for the tribal community. The winners from the district and state levels were awarded prizes amounting to Rs 1.08 crore and Rs 5.55 lakh, respectively in the marquee event.
"Tribal people have extra-ordinary sporting talents, whose reflections are found in their culture and lifestyle. Many players from Odisha have captained the Indian hockey team in the past. This event will help in developing the inner talent of the tribal sportspersons and they could bring laurels for Odisha and the country in national and international platforms," – Naveen Patnaik
Soon after the success of the Asian Athletics Championship, Tribal Sports Meet and FIH Hockey World Series Finals, Odisha prepared itself to host the biggest sporting extravaganza that the state has witnessed till date, the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup 2018. The painted walls across the city, the rush on the streets, and the hoardings everywhere could easily make you feel that there is something big happening in the city. For people of Odisha, Hockey isn't any game, it's a religion and the Hockey World Cup was the biggest festival that Odias have enjoyed till date. The success of the Hockey World Cup still buzzes around the Bhubaneswarias (people in the city).
The World Cup and sponsorship to the national hockey teams had already given Odisha enough eyeballs, making it the sports hub of India. But, Odisha didn't stop here. They started working on the MOUs signed before the Hockey World Cup for making High Performance Centres in different sports in partnership with India's top corporates and sportspersons. At the moment, HPCs which are already functional involve games like Hockey, Athletics, Swimming, Weightlifting, Shooting, Sport Climbing, Football, and the other two being Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance and Xavier-Emlyon Business School, which is built to nurture the sports management geeks from the state. Another HPC in badminton is expected to be inaugurated by December 2021.
With Odisha's finest sports infrastructure and expertise to host global sporting events, Odisha Government had hosted the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship at the Jawaharlal Indoor Stadium in Cuttack. This championship saw participation from some of the best players from across the globe. Top Indian paddlers with the likes of Manika Batra and Achanta Sharath Kamal displayed their prowess during this six-day mega event. This was an awe-inspiring experience for the young paddlers and sportspersons from Odisha to witness the best players across the globe under a single roof in Odisha.While everybody knew Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik's love for hockey, Odisha's weakness towards football came as a surprise. Odisha started sponsoring the Indian Arrows team and the U17 national team in 2019. This agreement with AIFF sees Odisha providing access to their state-of-the-art training and stadium facilities for various Indian national teams across age groups. It has been the home for Indian Arrows and Junior Indian teams.
Every Indian football fan surely watches the Indian Super League. For Odisha, getting an ISL team of its own was the next big thing to grab eyeballs for football in the country, and to everyone's surprise, came the Delhi Dynamos FC who wanted to shift their base and there could have been no better place than Odisha to do so. The Delhi-based franchise was renamed as Odisha FC and then started Odisha's journey in the ISL. With Odisha FC choosing its base as Bhubaneswar, we saw the birth of a football fan base named "The Juggernauts".
Named based on the English word Juggernaut, which is derived from Lord Jagannath, this football fan group that started with a few passionate soccer fans now has more than 1000 members in the club who support Odisha FC all throughout the year. The motto of this club has been to promote football in Odisha. This custom or tradition of a fan base is very common in European countries and leagues. In India, there aren't many clubs that have such a huge fan base like The Juggernauts.
There are a few football-mad states (Goa, Bengal, and Kerala to name a few) other than Odisha which have shown their unwavering support to football in every possible way. But, what makes Odisha stand out is its passion to promote not only footballers but improve the overall footballing eco-system in the country. It showed the country its love for football by hosting Referee & Coach License courses for the ex-footballers of the state for free. It hosted baby leagues at Kalinga Stadium during those courses to find out the best talents.
With Odisha government's support and with the Football Association of Odisha's interest, the Odisha Womens' League was held at the Kalinga Stadium. The most coveted women's tournament of India, the Indian Womens' League would already have been completed here if there wasn't the second wave of Covid. The year 2022 is going to be the biggest year for women's football not only in India but also in Odisha as both the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Women's Cup 2022 have Bhubaneswar as a shortlisted venue.
Not only the arrival of Odisha FC rung bells for Odisha's love for football, but Odisha had also been trying hard to break through into the richest game of the world for a very long time, a bright example being the Women's Gold Cup Football being held at the Kalinga Stadium in 2019. This is a tournament that not many talks about. But, bringing an international women's tournament to Odisha, is not everyone's cup of tea unless you are passionate about the promotion of sports, come what may.
With all this focus shifting to Football, the state government is still always supportive of its first love, hockey. CM Naveen Patnaik with his vision of "Sports for Youth; Youth for future", announced the largest hockey stadium in India to be built in Rourkela which would jointly host the Hockey World Cup 2023 along with the iconic Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. With three mega-events lined up in one year in Odisha, the state is the place to be if you want to make a career in Sports!
With the Central government under the leadership of Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju taking great strides to promote sports, the state government held its hand high to support them in their initiatives. One of the biggest flagship events to promote youth sports, the first-ever Khelo India University Games was held in Odisha.
4000 athletes from 176 universities participated in 211 events in 17 sports over a period of 10 days. One of the biggest universities in India, KIIT University, played the host to this prestigious event which promises to be a platform for bringing out the best sporting talents from all over India.
While Odisha was already sponsoring games like football and hockey, it added another feather to its cap by signing an agreement to sponsor the Indian national rugby teams last year. It's more of a strategic partnership where the state government will not only help develop the sport of rugby further in Odisha and India, but also support and strengthen the high-performance training of Indian National Rugby Teams.
Sports is a priority for Odisha and Bhubaneswar but still, it hasn't forgotten what it was known for before, the 'City of Temples', named after Tribhuvaneswar, 'Lord of Three Worlds', still preserves over 500 of India's finest temples, around which the religious life of the city revolves. The top attractions being Lingaraj Temple, Raja Rani Temple, Mukteswara Temple, Dhauli, Udaygiri, and Khandagiri caves to name a few. The word Bhubaneswar in its literal sense means the 'God's World' which showcases the walk down centuries of temple architecture and the city is moving fast to have some architectural marvels in sports with the Kalinga International Sports City which is going to come up soon.