A massive gathering of spectators might be a common sight at any mega sporting event, but to see a gathering of players as large as 23,300 assembling at a single tournament venue, is certainly a rarity! Indeed, the spectacle of as many rural hockey players raising their hockey sticks together in unison while kicking off the the Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship at Biju Patnaik Hockey Stadium, Rourkela on December 10th, was surely an overwhelming experience for all present at the venue.
An initiative by Olympian Dilip Tirkey, now a Rajya Sabha MP, the ‘Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship’ was organised by The Dilip Tirkey Sports Research and Development Foundation and was one of the largest hockey tournaments in the world for the tribals of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The inauguration ceremony of the tournament witnessed India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari, Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and a host of former and current players, including Ashok Kumar, Michael Kindo, A.B. Subbaiah, Ignace Tirkey, Birendra Lakra among others, gracing the event. Odisha Sports Minister Sudam Marandi and Sports Secretary Vishal Dev were also present.
Interestingly, the tournament comprised 1500 teams from 900 villages, which in itself became a Guinness Record, with both senior and junior hockey players assembling at the same place.
As legendary hockey icon from Odisha, Dilip Tirkey said, “Hockey lies in the soul of these peripheral tribal-dominated regions of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the interest and talent for this sport among the youngsters in this belt. The quality of the hockey talent and the numbers in which they have come forward shows the craze for hockey in this area. People prefer to buy a hockey stick costing thousands of rupees than affording a square meal a day.”
Tirkey also apprised about more plans in store for the game, especially promoting women hockey players and other women athletes as the event would gradually expand its reach to other sports as well in the subsequent years.
Meanwhile, Union Tribal Affairs Minister, Jual Oram described Sundergarh district and adjacent tribal-belts of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as minefields of hockey talent and mooted for a high budget investment proposal for setting up a hockey academy in Sundergarh.
While Vice President M Hamid Ansari expressed his amazement at the huge gathering of rural hockey players including many Olympians, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik applauded Sundergarh district for bringing laurels to the state. He further stated that efforts are in progress for developing infrastructure for growth of hockey and other sports and sports-persons.
Speaking at the event, Satyabrata Sanu Ratho, Director of Prelude, a media, communications and events company which designed and organised the event said, “The entire journey of designing the logo to organising the entire event has been an exciting experience for our team. It took us a lot of efforts to organise a one-of-its-kind event in the state but with so many players congregated at one place, our energy levels were also high. This phenomenal sporting event was an opportunity to implement Prelude’s vision of giving a global outlook to local events.”