Hockey World Cup 2023 fever grips Rourkela; Birsa Munda Stadium hosts first international match
Hockey World Cup 2023 is underway in Odisha from Friday. Meanwhile, the fever of the sport has gripped Rourkela, as the newly-built Birsa Munda Stadium has hosted its maiden international tie.
Hockey fever has gripped the country's cradle of the sport, with thousands of people turning up to witness the men's World Cup match between England and Wales at the magnificent Birsa Munda stadium on the opening day on Friday. The 21,000-capacity stadium, named after an Indian tribal freedom fighter, is said to be the biggest hockey venue in the world, and accurate to the state tradition, a sea of spectators came to watch the Pool D match. The Sundergarh region of Odisha, of which Rourkela is the largest city, is considered the cradle of Indian hockey as it has produced more than 60 international players, both men and women, including captains like the current Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey.
Sansarpur in Punjab was earlier considered the nursery of Indian hockey, but it has declined in the recent past. Thousands of hockey fans queued up at the gates hours before the start of the England-Wales match (5 PM). Many came from across Odisha to glimpse the brand-new stadium and India's first international match in the region.
"I have seen matches at the Kalinga Stadium, and now, I will experience the same at the Birsa Munda stadium, which is our pride. This region has produced so many Indian players and done so much for the game in the country," said Hemanta Das, who has come from Jharsuguda, nearly 150 km from Rourkela.
"I want to be among those who watch the first match at this stadium, so I am going to watch England vs Wales and then the India-Spain match," said another fan from Rourkela. The city wore a festive look with billboards and roadside wall paintings relating to the World Cup all over the place.
The state government has also set up three fan parks --- called Olly Land, referring to the official mascot of the World Cup, the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle -- outside the Birsa Munda and Kalinga Stadium as well as the Puri beach, where giant screens have been put up for fans to watch the matches live.
Organisers claimed that the tickets for all 20 matches in Rourkela were sold out within one week of the sale opening. The stadium was at least two-thirds full during England vs Wales match. The Birsa Munda stadium was built in a record time of 15 months to host the World Cup matches.
The stadium will host 20 of the 44 games of the World Cup, while the remaining 24, including the semifinals and final, will be played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, which is hosting back-to-back World Cup. The 200-crore Birsa Munda stadium has been built on 35 acres of land inside the 120-acre Biju Patnaik University of Technology campus on the outskirts of Rourkela.
It is a unique stadium as it houses a ₹80-crore accommodation -- called World Cup village -- which has over 200 rooms to accommodate at least eight teams and star facilities serviced by the Taj Group. It also has a connecting tunnel between the dressing room and the adjacent practice pitch, a separate fitness centre and a swimming pool.
The stadium has not hosted any senior international event before the HWC, but coaches and players of all 16 participating teams greatly admire the stadium. "It is a magnificent stadium, and the facilities here are fantastic. We trained on the pitch four or five times, which was fantastic. It's the same as at the Kalinga Stadium," Spain captain Alvaro Iglesias said.
India coach Graham Reid was in awe of the state-of-the-art stadium. "It is unbelievably good, and the facilities are fantastic. What has changed in the last 15 months has been quite incredible. Living in the World Cup village since December 27 has been quite amazing. I am happy with the pitch. We are getting used to it," he said.
(With inputs from PTI)