Bhubaneswar: As the clock ticks towards November 27, when the opening ceremony of 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup commences, excitement can be felt all over the city of Bhubaneswar.
Bhubaneswar has been decked in vibrant colours befitting the occasion; from the walls of the city depicting scenes from hockey players in action, footpaths paved in colours, city overpasses lit with colours from the Indian tricolour, a heritage art trail in old town, to the newfound love for the city publicised in the installation of several large ‘I Love Bhubaneswar’ slogan cut-outs around the city, the people queueing outside ticket counters near Kalinga Stadium- the numerous shades of the upcoming tourney is quite ostensive in Odisha’s capital.
The Odisha Government has left no stone unturned to make the city vibrant for those visiting for the Men’s Hockey World Cup.
Automatic modular swipe-card toilets have been installed throughout the city; mechanical sweepers are at work at strategic locations to keep the capital clean, city hotels asked to raise their standards and upgrade themselves with online booking facilities and their chefs instructed to cook as per the need of the foreign visitors. The once dilapidated government guest and circuit houses have been reinvigorated to international standards and to act as a backup should there be a shortage of hotel accommodation.
Months ahead of the games the government dug up several Bhubaneswar roads of in an attempt to send the overhead electric cables underground for the sake of aesthetics.
City criminals have been asked to take a break during the tournament. According to one source, there have been efforts to keep stray animals off the streets of Bhubaneswar.
The slums outside Kalinga Stadium have been wiped clean, its dwellers relocated to city outskirts, with each family furnished with Rs. 80,000 to build new cement sheds. Many slum occupants feel is jmuch-publicisedust not enough to complete the construction.
Ramesh, a father of five, one among them a budding footballer, laments he was happy living inside a dingy bamboo shack clinging to Kalinga Stadium’s wall than in this new unfamiliar territory far away from the hullabaloo of the city life.
The government’s signature campaigns for the Men’s Hockey World Cup make it quite clear that it is for nothing else, but hockey (‘abbas hockey’) and that, our heart should only perhaps beat for hockey at the moment (‘does your heart beat for hockey’), all of which are in tune with these developments to keep everyone upbeat about the Hockey World Cup.
The clamour for the opening ceremony tickets went out of hand on 15 November, when hockey enthusiasts, who had queued outside Kalinga Stadium ticket counters from early November 14, went on a rampage when ta he counters finally opened at 8 am, but only for the news to trickle out about tickets not being available.
Pandemonium ensued, furious fans broke barricades stationed outside the tickets counters defacing the counters too, in protest. Such frenzied passion for Hockey World Cup tickets is unheard of in the game of hockey anywhere, but this is nothing new for a city labeled the new hub of sports in India.
In the recently concluded Ekamra Sports Literary Festival in the city, Neeraj Chopra, India’s Javelin star referred to this unusual passion for watching sports of the Bhubaneswar denizens. He had mentioned how he can never forget when fans sat in dharna outside Kalinga Stadium gates during the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships protesting unavailability of tickets. He admitted he had never seen such enthusiasm to watch athletics or rather any other sport except cricket in India.
What makes the people of Bhubaneswar, so incomparably crazy about watching sporting events live? Perhaps, the lack of such sporting extravaganza in the past fuels the newfound hunger to witness anything put on display. Besides, it’s a city on the rise. Maybe the Bhubaneswarites treating these sporting events as entertainment regardless of the sport involved could also be a reason.
In the meantime, to diffuse the ticket situation and send a clear message to everyone, bigwigs and commoners, on the lookout for free passes to enter Kalinga Stadium for the Hockey World Cup, Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik recently bought a ticket for himself in a much publicised event.
However, some local sporting bigshots have admitted their struggle in acquiring match tickets for their dear ones. Even someone of Dilip Tirkey’s stature, one of India’s finest defenders and a poster boy for Odisha Hockey, is finding it difficult to get hold of tickets, which he believes is due to the rising popularity of hockey.
When the government is spending crores to turning Odisha into a sports hub, and on the relentless marketing of their efforts, there would definitely be repercussions. And, one such consequence is the sudden popularity of sports like hockey and athletics and the passion of the masses of the state to watch it from the stands.
Dilip Tirkey believes the only (future) solution to this positive problem is to build a bigger stadium, having a capacity of at least 25 to 30,000 capacity.
According to one source, around 2000 passes have been issued by the government and there’s a, scramble for each of them. Everyone with contacts in the state or central government is using their clout to get hold of as many passes as they can.
And, with the opening ceremony about to kick-off soon, the desperation of those unable to get tickets can only get bigger.