ODISHA HAS BEEN AT THE CENTRE-STAGE of sporting action in India recently, hosting major football tournaments like Federation Cup and Super Cup, and the highly popular Hockey World Cup 2018.
But the spotlight on the state is only set to get brighter with 2019 set to see a slew of high calibre sporting events being hosted there, including some of the most important events in Indian football.
Vishal Kumar Dev, the Commisioner-cum-Secretary of Sports & Youth Services Department, Government of Odisha, confirmed to TFG in an exclusive interview that a four nation tournament featuring the Indian Womens' Team will be held in Odisha in February 2019.
The state is also expecting to host Super Cup 2019, making this the third straight year that Odisha hosts a major cup tournament in Indian club football.
Detailing the initiative behind hosting the competitions, Mr Dev explained,
"The All India Football Federation approached us, and we said we'll be happy to host. The Kalinga Stadium and the practice grounds are available in any case. It's good to have international sporting activity taking place... Hero Super Cup will also happen here this year."
The four-nation tournament - an equivalent of the Intercontinental Cup that's hosted by AIFF for the Indian national mens' team - will feature, apart from India, the womens' national teams of Iran, Nepal and Myanmar. It's expected to begin mid-February.
It's the first time in decades that the All India Football Federation has organized such a competitive tournament for the Indian womens' team, and it's expected to provide Blue Tigresses a proper build-up to the SAFF Championship in March and the Olympic Qualifiers in April. This competition along with the four international friendlies against Hong Kong and Indonesia in January (all of which resulted in resounding victories) shows a sudden spike in activity for the WNT, and positive sign of serious interest taken by AIFF to help the team, ranked 62nd in the world, get better and push closer to a World Cup qualification.
Odisha hosted a few home games of Jamshedpur FC in ISL last season and now host the Indian Arrows team in I-League, ensuring a steady fixture of week-by-week high level football action taking place in state. Mr Dev said,
"We are now the home ground of the Indian Arrows as well as the India U-15 team. We're taking care of their accommodations and making grounds and other facilities available to them. We're hosting I-League matches regularly. It's all part of our all-encompassing vision on developing sports."
Late last year Odisha hosted the Hockey World Cup, which saw a record crowd attendance and several sold out matches. Mr Dev said the government of Odisha expected the favourable reaction from the fans, and the event has helped revive interest in hockey among kids in the state,
"We wanted to make the Hockey World Cup an event to remember. We tried to maintain a world class standard throughout the competition. We got very good feedback from players and spectators. Everybody said this was by far the best World Cup ever... there's a huge spike in demand for hockey in Odisha. A whole lot of schools are approaching us about making some of our coaches being made available to them for sessions with their students. We are seeing a major renewal of interest in hockey."
All these efforts, Mr Dev said, were just pieces in a larger puzzle of an elaborate endeavour by the government of Odisha that spanned across many sporting disciplines,
"We want Odisha to be the sports capital of India, and we also wanted it to become the best coaching and training centre. Back in November we signed 10 MOUs with various corporate entities to partner with us in setting up high performance centres in athletics, hockey, football, swimming, badminton and weightlifting. Abhinbh Bindra is setting up a world cup shooting academy where the facilities will be good enough to even host the world championship of shooting, which is being funded by Aditya Birla Group. JSW is setting up a football and a swimming academy. Reliance is helping us with the high performance centre for athletics. Tata Trusts will help us with hockey. We're also working with the likes of Gagan Narain, Pulella Gopichand, Anil Kumble to set up more academies."