Summarizing Hockey World Cup 2018

The fourteenth edition of the Men’s International Hockey World Cup, which was held in Bhubaneswar, India recently drew its curtains amidst much fanfare and hoopla. The Hockey World Cup had been scheduled to start from the last week of November, and the finale was planned around mid-December- more precisely, from 28th November, 2018 to 16th December. The event was of paramount significance not only to revive the common man’s interest in hockey as a sport, but also gave Bhubaneswar a fantastic opportunity to market itself as a tourist destination for both domestic and international visitors. Preparations had been ongoing for the World Cup celebrations for months in advance, with several new initiatives such as beautification drives and public transport revamps very much in tow. The city’s own fest, a one of a kind venture- dotFest, was held parallel to the Hockey World Cup, and shared considerable limelight too, roping in star power to draw crowds. The World Cup event was held at Kalinga Stadium, which was inaugurated in 1978 by the late Biju Patnaik, statesmen and the former Chief Minister. A state-of-the-art architectural marvel for a Stadium, and perhaps Odisha’s finest- the stadium was renovated to provide a wonderful experience for the spectators as well as the players.

Odisha’s connection with hockey dates a long way back. The Chota Nagpur region, covering vast swathes of land from northern Odisha to modern-day Jharkhand, is famous for its rich hockey history. Odisha’s own Sundergarh district, which borders Jharkhand, is renowned for being the homeland of stars such as Dilip Tirkey, who was the former Indian hockey premier. In 2013, the Federation Internationalé de Hockey opened the host assignment process for the 2018 World Cup. In the month of March in the same year, five nations were shortlisted for the bidding process, which would in turn determine the final host. These included Australia, Belgium, India, New Zealand and Malaysia. While processing of the said applications were ongoing, Australia backed out due to financial causes, and Belgium did not meet some of the paperwork requirements. Finally, on 7th November, 2013, India was declared to be the host nation for the fourteenth edition of the quadrennial event. Bhubaneswar, being the State capital of India’s hockey backyard- Odisha- was a natural choice for the city host. Renovations started in the Kalinga Stadium well in advance, which led to a considerable jump in the seating capacity by nearly seventy per cent- from nine thousand earlier, to well over fifteen thousand before the start of the tournament. Two brand new stands, a deluxe dressing room and starry VIP boxes arm the stadium with a trendy look now, compared to the worn-out look it wore only four years ago.

Odisha Hockey Inaguration

Preparations in Bhubaneswar for the World Cup started almost a year ago, in June 2017. Apart from lavish renovations to the stadium, the administration planned to give the city a revamped look, in which it was indeed successful. In a pioneering venture, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation empanelled fifteen artists from premier art institutes across Odisha to paint the walls of the city, especially those around Kalinga Stadium and the stretch between Governor House and Jaydev Vihar. The paintings dwelled from the theme of promoting the spirit of hockey to conservation of olive ridley turtles- a pointer to the State’s beautiful diversity. Light installations were also made in several public places by the Bhubaneswar Development Authority, with LED lights being deployed in minimalistic simplicity to stitch an environment of aesthetic pleasure.

Furthermore, the Odisha government, in cooperation with Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited (BSCL) rolled out the Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS) schemes under the label, ‘Mo Cycle’. Private players like Yulu, Hexi, Yaana, and the like, were permitted to foray into city roads to advance the cause of green commute. A dedicated cycling corridor had been constructed in major roads by the competent authority. A technology-driven bus scheme was also launched, christened ‘Mo Bus’, which featured among its highlights free Wi-Fi, CCTV Surveillance on board, Public display system and ongoing announcements. In the month of June, five months before the programme, officials from FIH were satisfied with the ongoing preparations in Bhubaneswar for the mega-event of the hockey world. Tickets to the matches were to be sold online. Interestingly, when the ticketing gateways were opened online, all tickets featuring matches played by India, or the semi-finals and finals, were sold out within minutes!

The opening ceremony was organised on 27th November, a day before the inaugural match. Reflecting the tradition of the game, the opening ceremony through its various detailed shows exhibited the focal theme of the oneness of humanity. The opening ceremony was by all means, a gala show- being attended by celebrities from India and beyond. Oscar-winning Rahman, Bollywood’s own Shah Rukh, and Indian actress Madhuri Dixit were some to name. Truly, the Hockey World Cup couldn’t have been started in a better way. A.R Rahman and eminent lyricist Gulzar together fabricated the theme song for the event, ‘Jai Hind India’- which gathered significant traction among the masses, particularly the youth, and racked up twelve million views on YouTube within a very short span of time.
The tournament comprised of 16 nations represented by their national teams, who were divided into four groups, called pools. Pool A comprised of Argentina, Spain, France and New Zealand. Pool B had the Australians, the English, the Irish and a resilient China. The home team, India, was put in Pool C- alongside the formidable Belgium, Canada and South Africa. The fourth group, Pool D, had under its ambit Germany, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Netherlands. At the end of the group stage (that is, after having played other teams in the same pool at least once), the teams placed first on the pool tables advanced to the quarter finals. Argentina, Australia, India and Germany were the four countries who advanced to the quarters without a hassle. The second and third-placed teams had to contend with playing crossover matches that decided their selection into the quarter finals. Unfortunately, on the 13th of December, when India played the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, India missed out on a fair share of chances and ultimately, ran out of luck, as their opponents outclassed them in quality to further advance into the semi-finals, leaving the home team out of contention to the throne of the champions. Ultimately, in what could be easily described as an adrenaline-pushing game, the finals lived up to the hype and excitement that had developed in the stadium- as was anticipated of the finals of such a dynamic sport. Belgium drew Netherlands 0-0, but then proceeded to lift the title of the winners of the 2018 Hockey World Cup, courtesy a penalty shootout that had them leading 3-2 over the Netherlands. A fitting end to the fitting sport, riddled with surprises and gushes!

Efforts to promote Odisha as a top spot for tourism were also launched with massive thrusts. Odisha Tourism fired up its marketing activities in July, when it launched the ‘Odisha by Morning, Hockey by Evening’ campaign in London- during the women’s hockey world cup. Posters put on such means of public transport in London (and then simultaneously expanded to Berlin, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Breda) quickly catched eyeballs and the step taken was a success in getting the word out. If Delhi was the political seat of power, and Mumbai the financial capital of the country, then Bhubaneswar had to be the sports capital of India. Tour packages revolving around sporting themes were revealed by the State department, who wanted to leave no stone unturned in a bid to market the State’s appetite, and potential for tourism. Authorities nudged hoteliers to upgrade their facilities to ‘Star’ categories. Accommodation was made possible by getting 412 hotels in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri on-board, and 78 rooms from public sector entities, university hostels and corporation guesthouses have been identified. An estimated 8,600 beds were made available for online booking during the span of the World Cup. An estimated twenty-five thousand foreign visitors came to attend the programme, as per official records. An international team slogan campaign was also unveiled for each of the sixteen participating teams, and the Prime Ministers of each of those nations were invited to be a part of the Hockey World Cup 2018 campaign. As an outreach initiative on part of the State government, consulates in Bhubaneswar corresponding to the participating teams were also engaged in making the campaign a success. International student exchange programmes were also arranged for, as part of mutual agreements to understand the cultural heritage of the sixteen nations that were to be a part of the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup.

As the host State for the international event, the State’s own economy took to a bullish trend. Organising an event of panoramic proportions, such as the World Cup, often has direct economic benefits linked with it. Apart from a boost in tourism, which would increase the State coffers, small artistes and handicraft workers were also employed in large scale, thus uplifting the traditionally low-key, cottage industries that we have. The Handicrafts and Handloom department of the Government of Odisha decided to supply the souvenirs and mementos for the event by manufacturing them locally. The Make in Odisha conclave, which was held between 11th and 15th November, was a huge success- attracting a whopping sum of Rs. 419,574 crores as investments across a diversified set of sectors. Industrialists from all over India, as well as those from abroad, highlighted in particular the importance of sports tourism alongside consistent investment into the rather untapped economy that lay dormant. In addition, there remains the amount from broadcasting rights, licensing, increased tax revenues, and an overall jump in employment, too. There are many other intangible benefits that cannot be solely measured in monetary terms. The successful organisation of the Hockey World Cup 2018 has now provided Bhubaneswar with a plank towards success- if the State makes efforts in the right direction over the next couple of years, there is no doubt that Odisha could look forward to a positive gain in the State GDP (GSDP) very soon.
Leaving aside all economic considerations or the State’s involvement to promote the sport, positive feedback surrounding the general ambience and people of Bhubaneswar has come about. In the last two months or so, visiting dignitaries and guests have savoured the experience that Odisha entails. The United States’ Ambassador to India, Ken Juster, termed Odisha the “soul” of incredible India. The capital city has also been changing perceptions of foreigners, especially women, travelling alone in India. This was made evident by the tweet by Samantha Quek, who was an Olympic Gold Medallist for the Women’s British Hockey Team. She called Bhubaneswar a vibrant, enchanting place that douses any security apprehensions that foreigners usually have due to travel advisories. In fact, media portal The New Indian Express ran a feature on the much-appreciated good vibes that the State offers. In it, the author remarks that when people visit Odisha, they are so touched by the humility and goodness of natives that they perhaps compare it to the growing deficit elsewhere. Odia people are essentially simple, but not gullible- after all, any degree of sophistication cannot be appreciated, without the tinge of simplicity in oneself.

In retrospect, the entire organisation of the Hockey World Cup was beyond expectations, with smooth administration and no hurdles in the road to a tournament of dreams serving as the icing on the cake of post-Cup jubilation. The Odisha government must be congratulated for striving till the last mile in putting the event on the global map. It takes more than mere will to host an event of this scale- and Bhubaneswar has rightly proven that it indeed is the spiritual home of hockey. In the football world, FIFA’s corporate attitude and look often dents the spirit of the game. In stark contrast, FIH has a knack for minimal interference, permitting the host to sprinkle its own taste and flavour onto the game so close to the hearts of the people. Now that the World Cup is over, and success stories are being uploaded every single second, it is time to move and prepare for further glories. After all, the Temple City Bhubaneswar, with all due blessings of from the Heavens above, is destined to attain a lot more.

Leave a comment