A massive gathering of spectators might be a common sight at any mega sporting event, but to see a gathering of players as large as 23,300 assembling at a single tournament venue, is certainly a rarity! Indeed, the spectacle of as many rural hockey players raising their hockey sticks together in unison while kicking off the the Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship at Biju Patnaik Hockey Stadium, Rourkela on December 10th, was surely an overwhelming experience for all present at the venue.
An initiative by Olympian Dilip Tirkey, now a Rajya Sabha MP, the ‘Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship’ was organised by The Dilip Tirkey Sports Research and Development Foundation and was one of the largest hockey tournaments in the world for the tribals of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The inauguration ceremony of the tournament witnessed India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari, Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and a host of former and current players, including Ashok Kumar, Michael Kindo, A.B. Subbaiah, Ignace Tirkey, Birendra Lakra among others, gracing the event. Odisha Sports Minister Sudam Marandi and Sports Secretary Vishal Dev were also present.
Interestingly, the tournament comprised 1500 teams from 900 villages, which in itself became a Guinness Record, with both senior and junior hockey players assembling at the same place.
As legendary hockey icon from Odisha, Dilip Tirkey said, “Hockey lies in the soul of these peripheral tribal-dominated regions of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the interest and talent for this sport among the youngsters in this belt. The quality of the hockey talent and the numbers in which they have come forward shows the craze for hockey in this area. People prefer to buy a hockey stick costing thousands of rupees than affording a square meal a day.”
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