Lok Sabha polls 2024: In land of hockey, star player Dilip Tirkey aims at scoring winning goal for BJD

Tirkey contested the Sundergarh seat in 2014 and lost to BJP’s Jual Oram.
Last Updated : 19 April 2024, 09:44 IST
Last Updated : 19 April 2024, 09:44 IST

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New Delhi: Hockey India president, former India captain and Rajya Sabha MP till 2018. Star player Dilip Tirkey is all of those and now aims at scoring a winning goal in the electoral field as the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Lok Sabha candidate from Odisha’s Sundergarh constituency, where hockey is not just a sport but a way of life.

Tirkey contested the Sundergarh seat in 2014 and lost to BJP’s Jual Oram. Ten years later, the star who helped put the tribal dominated area on the world hockey map is confident the result will be different this time and voters will back not just him but Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who has made such a significant contribution to promoting the sport.

“A lot has changed in the last 10 years. A lot of development work has been done in Odisha, be it in education, health or sports,” Tirkey, who has played more than 400 international matches for India, told PTI in an exclusive interview.

“The Odisha government has changed the image of the state by making it a sporting hub of the country with high performance centres, state-of-the-art training facilities and hosting big tournaments. The sports loving people of Sundergarh and Odisha will not forget this while voting,” the 46-year-old added.

Tirkey, the first from Odisha to play for India seniors in 1995, is a household name in hockey-loving Sundergarh. Seeing a boy from Saunamara village in the district play for India and captain the national team was a game changer. He was the first to make it big globally. Since then, Sundargarh district has produced several players such as Lazarus Barla and Birender Lakra who have represented India at the World Cup and Olympics.

“Odisha has made itself a strong presence in the world sports map in the last decade. The world's largest hockey stadium, Birsa Munda Stadium, has been built in Rourkela and last year the Men's Hockey World Cup matches were also successfully held there,” Tirkey said.

He didn’t contest in 2019, when Oram returned as MP from Sundargarh, and was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 2012 to 2018.

Hockey, in Tirkey’s view, is an emotional pivot in his constituency which goes to the polls on May 20.

'There is a lot of enthusiasm among hockey players in Sundergarh. To further promote hockey in remote areas, 17 astro turfs have been installed in 17 blocks of different districts. Apart from this, many centres have also been built for indoor sports,” said the ace full back who has played three Olympics and three World Cup tournaments.

Over the years, the Patnaik-led Odisha government and hockey have become intertwined. Besides the many facilities, the Odisha government in 2018 became the main sponsor of the Indian teams, signing a Rs 100 crore deal for five years. In 2021, it renewed the contract for 10 years for an undisclosed sum after India won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hockey is meshed into the cultural heritage of every household in Sundergarh, earlier known for its mineral resource reserves like iron ore, manganese and limestone.

The Khasi Cup, a local village tribal hockey tournament, is evidence of the deep rooted love for the sport. Khasi in Odiya means goat and the winning team is awarded one. The players are given a hero’s welcome in their village and the goat they have won is used for a celebratory gala feast for the entire village.

The love for hockey looming large in the backdrop, Tirkey said the sportsperson in him will make him a better politician and MP too.

“I have worked very hard as a player and will do so in politics as well. Players can be successful politicians. Sports mean hard work and discipline which is necessary in politics also. Along with this, there is a need for patience which I have maintained throughout my career,” he said.

“I have been in politics for a long time and have been closely associated with the people of Sundergarh in the last decade. Have been with them, have attended their social, sports, cultural and religious programmes.”

His experience as a Rajya Sabha MP will also be very useful to him now, he said.

“Sitting among the stalwarts in the Rajya Sabha has been a great experience for me. For the first time, a player was sent to Rajya Sabha from BJD, which was a big achievement for me.”

Tirkey said the absence of an alliance with the BJP will not affect his party’s chances in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha.

“BJD does not need an alliance in Odisha because people have unwavering faith in the leadership of Naveen Patnaik who will be seeking a sixth term. He has completely changed the image of Odisha. Similarly, Modi ji also does not need a BJD alliance at the Centre,” he said.

Asked whether the votes in Sundergarh would be for him or Patnaik, Tirkey said, "I am in politics because of him and his positive image will definitely get me votes." Will he leave the post of Hockey India president if he wins the election? “Hockey is my passion and it has given me a lot. Now being the resident of Hockey India, I am associated with it. Hopefully I will be able to handle this responsibility in future also. Former wrestling federation president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh was also an MP from Gonda, so there is nothing that MPs cannot remain in the sports federation,” he said.

The electoral process in Odisha, which is again holding simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls, begins May 13.

In 2019, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats while BJP bagged eight and the Congress one.

In the Assembly elections, the BJD won 113 of 147 seats. The BJP came a distant second with 23 seats, followed by the Congress with nine.

Published 19 April 2024, 09:44 IST

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