In an exclusive interview with My City Links, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Chandra Sarathi Behera spoke how the state government could take up the challenge and script a success story with the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships. Excerpts:
How was the 90-day challenge like?
The 90 days were full of challenges, that too tough ones. The most challenging task was the renovation and restoration of Kalinga Stadium. There was no warm up court previously. Synthetic track was refurbished. About 2,50,000 square feet of the stadium was floored with new tiles. All the 5000 chairs were replaced with new ones. Also, new flood lights were installed. Generally, flood lights are dispatched by ship, but it would have taken about three months. Hence, they had to be airlifted to ensure all arrangements on time.
Though time was a constraint, there was no compromise in the quality of work. Everything was of high quality! For mast lights, we spoke with Bajaj and Philips. Later, Bajaj was finalised to provide the lights and the director of the company himself intervened to ensure everything was done properly. Also, synthetic track was taken from one of the best among the companies who make such products in India.
Although, the task was challenging, Odisha team worked really hard and completed everything on time. Such kind of tasks need, at least, six months to be completed, but our team worked day and night to finish it within the time frame of three months.
What difficulties came in the way and how could you overcome all of them?
As 45 countries participated, more than 1200 people including athletes and their associates were expected for the event. Therefore, their accommodation, transportation and fooding arrangements were of prime importance. Handling all of this was a big challenge, but everything was carried out with proper planning.
To monitor the entire event, a governing body was formed under which there were 14 sub-committees. Starting from reception from the airport, check in to the hotel, travelling from hotel to stadium and back to the final departure, everything was taken care of for all the guest athletes and their associates. Every team was provided with a ‘Liaisoning Officer’ for better coordination.
Again, ‘Championship Desk’ had been set up for all the updates regarding the stadium and also to spread awareness about Odisha tourism. To overcome security breaches, over 1500 police personnel were engaged for the mammoth event.
What do you think about Odisha attracting more such international events after the successful completion of AAC?
Yes, we have already started talking about doing such big events in future too. An International Junior Championship is there in the pipeline and we might do it. Odisha now has a special recognition of its own in the sports arena.
Though international cricket and hockey matches have been played in Odisha before, it was for the first time that any international athletic championship was hosted here. This has created a number of opportunities. Whenever there will be plans of any athletic meet to be held in India, Odisha will remain among the top choices. There is no second thought about it that Odisha has created a positive impact worldwide with the grand success of AAC.
What other benefit do you think Odisha has managed from the grand success of AAC?
As soon as the countdown to AAC started and even during the meet, we noticed that people here started showing keen interest in the championship. They became more aware of such an athletic meet. This was reflected on the first day of the event itself, which witnessed a huge crowd that included a number of school children as well. People now have a different perspective towards athletics and I am sure after the success of AAC, a lot of parents will be keen to encourage their children to pursue athletics.