The Tuesday Interview | Hockey is on the decline in Karnataka and we want to address that: Dilip Tirkey

Tirkey never imagined in his wildest dreams that his region would have a world-class stadium
Last Updated 23 January 2023, 23:52 IST

Dilip Tirkey is a very proud and happy man. Hailing from Sundargarh district, dubbed the “cradle of Indian hockey” for producing over 60 India internationals, Tirkey never imagined in his wildest dreams that his region would have a world-class stadium, let alone host an FIH World Cup. Now it has come true, with Rourkela boasting one of the biggest hockey-specific stadiums, thanks to the vision of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. A fantastic defender in his playing days, the soft-spoken Tirkey is now the president of Hockey India, taking over at a time when the sport is seeing a revival of sorts. The 45-year-old spoke to DH’s Sidney Kiran about Odisha hosting two Hockey World Cups back-to-back, his plans for Indian hockey, and more. Excerpts.

As someone from Odisha, how do you feel about the state staging two world cups, including the ongoing one?

I’m happy and proud, more so because our Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has supported hockey by not just hosting World Cups but also being the principal sponsor of the national team. He has given hockey a new life. When I played the sport, I never imagined Odisha would host a World Cup. This just shows how far the state has come with its love for the sport. People here love hockey, and it’s there to be seen, with fans flocking to both stadiums, even for non-India matches. To build two of the best hockey stadiums in the world is a great achievement, and I doff my hat to the CM and all of those involved in making this happen. The Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela has 225 rooms, all four-star level. I don’t think any stadium in the world can boast of having that many rooms. Then there is the airport, which is close by. It’s simply incredible.

The state government has also invested heavily in grassroots programmes by constructing 17 artificial pitches in the Sundargarh region and building other facilities in Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, co-hosting the World Cup...

The government is focusing on three things: First, infrastructure by building pitches and other sporting facilities in Kalinga Stadium too. I believe more pitches are on the anvil. Secondly, it is hosting back-to-back World Cups and other hockey events because unless you host high-profile events and build interest around them, many people may not take up the sport. Thirdly, we have to ensure people at the grassroots get access to good facilities, which is the reason behind all the investment at that level. Apart from setting up pitches, coaches have been hired to ensure children learn the sport technically and in the right way.

As president of Hockey India, what lessons can be learned from the Odisha government’s initiatives to improve hockey in other parts of the country?

Youth are our future, and we must prioritise and invest heavily in them. Other states and sporting administrations need to devote a good amount of time, energy, and money to improving sports at the youth level.

While Odisha has enhanced its love for hockey, the game is on the decline in other states. Karnataka, especially its Kodagu district, always had representation in the national team, but now they do not even feature among the probables. How do you intend to revive the sport there?

I agree that hockey is on the decline there, and addressing that is one of my top priorities. We plan to speak to the state governments and associations in Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu and see why interest in hockey has dipped there. We need to understand why they are not able to produce players. Only after that can we address the issues. We need to know the problem before finding a way to fix it. Also, to improve any sport, we need the support of the state government, without which we cannot develop the sport. We need their help.

Franchise-based leagues are very popular in the country. Any plans of reviving the Hockey India League, which has remained dysfunctional since 2017?

HIL was great for young players. It helped improve their performance because of the exposure it gave them. It also helped them financially. Playing and training with top players from around the world had a different feel than just training in camps and watching them play internationals. We want to revive it, and talks are going on. In my opinion, if things fall into place, it should be back next year.

The men have had a chance to play several FIH events at home but the women have had nothing. Any plans of staging internationals or other events for them?

The women are doing extremely well now, and Hockey India is proud of their performances. It’s a good point that you raised, and we will plan on getting some events for them too.

National cricketers get central contracts. Do you intend to get them for hockey players also?

We did talk about it with the central government. But there are too many elements involved. We have to be patient on this.

Any other major plans?

Reviving HIL is the main target. Then I want to improve the grassroots programme because, as I said, youth are the future, and ensuring they get the best training facilities is my priority.

(Published 23 January 2023, 18:15 IST)

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