Asian Games: Job done, it's Mission Paris 2024 for men’s hockey team
With Odisha as official sponsors of national hockey teams, CM Naveen Patnaik believes hockey deserves 'more shine' in India
It will be ‘Mission Paris 2024’ for the India men’s hockey team which earned a direct berth in the Olympics with a gold medal in the just-concluded Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. The women’s team came up with a bronze and Odisha, the biggest benefactors of the sport in the country, has been first off the blocks to recognise their achievements.
The hockey teams’ success saw Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik announce a cluster of cash rewards. While each member of the men’s squad will receive Rs 5 lakh, members of the women’s team will receive Rs 3 lakh each. The India men’s team had last won the Asian Games gold in 2014 in Incheon, South Korea, where they beat Pakistan in the final.
There was, however, a windfall awaiting the duo of defender-dragflicker Amit Rohidas and women’s team defender Deep Grace Ekka, both of whom hail from the tribal belt of Sundargarh district in Odisha. Rohidas was awarded a cash reward of Rs 1.5 crore while Ekka received Rs 50 lakh from the state government.
Speaking to PTI soon after the men’s team struck gold when they romped home 5-1 against Japan in the final, Patnaik struck a positive outlook about their medal hopes in Paris. ‘’I believe India has the potential to win the Olympic gold medal in hockey. This team has the attitude to make it happen,’’ he said about Harmanpreet Singh & co., who had a smooth campaign in China and recorded a whopping 10-2 rout of Pakistan in the group stages.
‘’Hockey is in our DNA. It’s time for hockey to be more appreciated. I know plenty of other sports are vying for our country’s attention, but hockey deserves some shine,’’ said Patnaik, whose state has been the official sponsor of India’s national teams since 2018.
The last two years saw an upswing in the fortunes of India's hockey teams when the men’s team, eight-time Olympics gold medallists, ended a 41-year medal drought to finish with a bronze in the Tokyo Olympics. The women’s team, meanwhile, dished out an extremely resilient show in only their second appearance in the Olympics, and finished fourth in Tokyo.
The competition levels at the Olympics and Asian Games are like chalk-and-cheese, however, and the men’s team will have to start from scratch to strive for a podium finish again. Odisha, which had initially stepped in as sponsors of all national hockey teams for five years from 2018, renewed the team's contract until 2031 soon after the Tokyo medal.
While the India contingent at the Asian Games has become the toast of the nation with an unprecedented haul of 107 medals, though hockey is only one of the three team disciplines in which both the men's and women’s teams had podium finishes, other than cricket, making its Asiad debut, and kabaddi.