More than 1000 athletes – 45 countries – 42 different disciplines; the Asian Athletics Championship (AAC) 2017 is witnessing the largest contingent of athletes in its 22nd edition and in the history of the competition. The four-day extravaganza of athletes meet organised by the Asian Athletics Association with the help of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) will also act as a qualifying event for next year’s IAAF World Championships, to be held in London.
Amidst all the excitement surrounding the premier track and field event in the continent as it makes its return to India this year; the best of the news remains for the state of Odisha. The event is being held at Kalinga Stadium in its capital city of Bhubaneswar. The championship isn’t just historic in its own timeline; it is also a momentous occasion for Odisha and its government. As Odisha’s capital city of Bhubaneswar hosts the 22nd edition of the championship from July 6-9, 2017, it becomes the third Indian city to host one of the flagship athletics events in Asia, after New Delhi and Pune where the earlier editions of AAC were held in 1989 and 2013 respectively.
Though for the first time an event of such a scale is being hosted by Bhubaneswar, the Odisha government has displayed remarkable nerve to step in to the situation with 90 days to go for the event, after Ranchi pulled out of its responsibility to be the host city at the last minute.
Since the launch of the logo and mascot of the AAC on 7th May 2017, the Government of Odisha has ensured to leave no stone unturned in its attempt to make this event a reality. The efforts being put in by the government and the authorities for the championship in a record time of 90 days are worth extolling. Meanwhile the promotions also highlight the state’s commitment to promote sports, tourism and industry.
The multi-purpose Kalinga Stadium, which is set to host the Hockey World Cup next year, has been transformed to become a world-class track and field facility. The administration is making sure that the infrastructure at the stadium meets all the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) standards. Among the facilities that have been scaled up or constructed, a newly-laid all-weather synthetic track equipped with floodlights along with a state-of-the-art warm-up area has also been constructed to make it a world-class training facility in the short span of over two months.
However, it is not the Kalinga Stadium alone that has undergone all the improvement. The capital city as such has been getting pruned and groomed to look worthy of its reputation as the host city. Starting from the main stretches of the city’s roads that lead to the stadium to public spaces, all have been beautified by the BMC. The city walls now don graffiti of athletes in action instead of the mundane paint of bureaucrat’s quarters and private residences.
From posters and banners of the AAC all over the city (even on the national highways and vehicles too), a TVC by national award winning Odia director Nila Madhab Panda showcasing the natural, cultural and architectural heritage of Odisha, flagpoles with flags of the participating countries adorning the main Janpath road, the promotional activities at the Patha Utsav every Sunday, to the Olly mascot visiting schools across the city and the state – they have all added to the enormity of the meet while indicating towards Odisha government’s renewed vigour at shaking off the laid back image of the state and its own characteristic ineffectiveness in sustaining major projects flowing in for the state.
Odisha now is certainly basking in its moment of pride on having accomplished what seemed to be a herculean task for other major cities of the country. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in one of his comments said that Odisha has now evolved and transformed to become one of the most progressive states in the country. He acknowledges that it is the faith of the people of Odisha that has helped bring about this change.
Even as the Odia athletes have been doing exceptionally well at international sporting events recently, he thinks the Asian Athletics Championships 2017 is a great opportunity and offers excellent exposure to our Odia athletes to compete with some of the best sports persons in the world. The event is a sure way to scale up the sports profile of the state higher by many notches.
Meanwhile as all the spotlights turn to focus on Odisha with all the elite athletes of Asia congregating at Kalinga Stadium, Odisha Government is also being alleged to have taken a shot at two birds with a single arrow. It is being said that the government smartly enough tapped on the dual prospects of renovating the Kalinga Stadium and promoting its own the cause at the right time, i.e. before the 2019 general elections.
In its mission to project itself on the global map as a sport hub, the Odisha government has been tenaciously getting the Smart City of Bhubaneswar to go through a major overhaul of infrastructure and publicity campaigns. And, of course, the results are for all to see!