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Quiet 12th Man, Naveen Patnaik 'Drag-Flicked' Hockey Olympic Medal into India's Post Eleven Yrs After First Try

By: Rounak Kumar Gunjan

News18.com

Last Updated: August 06, 2021, 14:49 IST

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is the man behind the state's sponsorship of the hockey teams, Image: Naveen Patnaik's Twitter handle

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is the man behind the state's sponsorship of the hockey teams, Image: Naveen Patnaik's Twitter handle

As the nation's stake in hockey escalated, Patnaik turned ecstatic and paid a standing ovation to Team India while watching the quarterfinals of the Olympics on television.

In a first-of-its-kind association, Indian hockey in February, 2010 got a new sponsor in state government of Odisha. Naveen Patnaik had decided to support the game for the next five years. Commenting on the association, Patnaik had then said, “Hockey in Odisha is more than a sport, it’s a way of life."

Again, when the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha signed an agreement with Hockey India in 2018 to sponsor both men’s and women’s national teams for five years, critics wondered whether a poor state frequently ravaged by natural calamities could afford to contribute Rs 100 crore from the public exchequer to the game.

Eleven years after the first attempt and three years after the new agreement, India won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics and it is this man who is being credited by not only stakeholders but players alike.

The man behind the state’s sponsorship of the hockey teams, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, gave a befitting reply to critics saying, “Investment in sports is an investment in youth. Investment in youth is an investment in the future."

Noting that this mantra made Odisha focus on hockey, which is almost a way of life for the tribal population, Patnaik asserted, “The children in Sundargarh district learn walking by holding a hockey stick."

He said that the five-year sponsorship deal was Odisha’s gift to the nation, silencing critics including opposition parties, while also raising the sponsorship amount to Rs 150 crore in five years.

“Thirty-eight champions script history in hockey, 1.3 billion Indians walk an inch taller," the Odisha government announced.

As the nation’s stake in hockey escalated, Patnaik turned ecstatic and paid a standing ovation to Team India while watching the quarterfinals of the Olympics on television. The next day, sporting a black tee-shirt and a trouser, an otherwise shy and introvert Naveen showed a ‘thumps up’ gesture while celebrating the victories.

However, despite India’s men’s team losing to Belgium by 2-5 in the semi-finals on Tuesday, 74-year-old Patnaik was not disheartened.

“Well played. Congratulate Indian Men’s Hockey Team for putting up a brave fight in the #Hockey Semi Finals of #Tokyo2020 against World Champion Belgium. What they have achieved so far will inspire a generation of sportspersons. Wish them all the best for the future," Patnaik tweeted to encourage the men in blue to bag at least a bronze medal, for which India will play Germany.

Patnaik’s love for hockey dates back to his childhood days in Doon School where he was the team’s goalkeeper or ‘goalie’.

Now, after being the Odisha chief minister for five consecutive terms, Patnaik has finally got the opportunity to fulfill his long-cherished dream to contribute to the national game, which suffered a setback after the rise of cricket in the late 1970s.

Team India’s stupendous performance in hockey at the Tokyo Olympics came at a time when most people of the country had started to forget that India had won three successive gold medals in the world sporting extravaganza in 1928, 1932 and 1936 under the leadership of the legendary Dhyan Chand.

“More than at an individual level, the chief minister was moved by the love people of Odisha have for hockey as a game and this inspired him to promote the sport," a senior bureaucrat implementing the hockey programmes in the state said.

“Patnaik was astonished to see that irrespective of rain or sun, a hockey game always attracted a packed stadium in Odisha," he added.

Incidentally, Odisha was the only state to have its own professional hockey club — Kalinga Lancers – which emerged as the campion in the last edition of Hockey India League in 2017.

The state also has a system of sports hostels where thousands of players are coached. Some of them even participated in international events.

Besides supporting the national teams since 2018 after Sahara pulled out, Odisha also hosted all major international hockey championships in the last few years, including the men’s World Cup in 2018, World League in 2017, FIH Pro-league, Olympic Qualifiers and others.

The state will host the men’s World Cup in 2023, for which India’s largest hockey stadium with 20,000-capacity is being built in Rourkela at a cost of over RS 120 crore.

“This will be one of the most modern hockey stadiums in the world," Patnaik said.

The state government is building 20 hockey training centres at a cost of ₹200 crores to enable young players to start practice on Astro-turf.

A high-performance centre (HPC) in partnership with the Tata Group has been operational in Kalinga Stadium for the last two years. The HPC is expected to produce a large number of national players in the coming years.

Odisha has produced India’s finest hockey players. Patnaik’s BJD is perhaps the only political party in the country that has made a former Indian men’s hockey team captain, Dilip Tirkey, as a Rajya Sabha MP.

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first published:August 06, 2021, 14:45 IST
last updated:August 06, 2021, 14:49 IST
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