Having made Odisha a go to destination for international hockey events in the last few years, the state government is now keen to put in place a mechanism to identify and nurture talent at the grassroot level and last month launched an ambitious program to create quality infrastructure for the same.

The Odisha government plans to build 17 astro turfs in the 17 blocks of the Sundargarh district, which is considered to be the cradle of hockey in the state and has already named Rourkela as one of the venue for the 2023 men’s hockey World Cup.

“Development of hockey is being treated as a mission by the state government,” said former India skipper Dilip Tirkey, who has been named Chairperson of Odisha Hockey Promotion Council which will be responsible for implementing the program and creating the tier structure from grassroot development to High Performance Centre in Bhubaneshwar.

“The first step was to promote the sport across the state by hosting major international events. The next step is to develop grassroot infrastructure,” he added.

The council has been given an approximate budget of about Rs 100 crore through the District Mineral Foundation to develop infrastructure in these blocks within the next 12 months following which Hockey India will appoint one coach and two assistant coaches in all these centres to identify talent and create a coaching system.

The 42-year-old full-back, who played over 400 internationals for India, learned the ropes of the sport while playing in the various local tournaments that are still being held regularly and even Tirkey admits that it is difficult to put a number on how many play the sport in the state’s second-largest district.

But what he is sure about is that the new initiative will expedite the process of bringing talented children into national recognition.

“The construction of the turfs will ensure that grassroots hockey will get the right environment. Children as young as 5 or 6 will get to play on astroturf and the quality of tournaments organised will be better. This will also motivate the players to dream big.

“If more players train and play on astroturf then we will have more quality players,” said Tirkey, who is also a Rajya Sabha member from the state.

The Naval Tata High Performance Centre has already been functional where the selected players from across the state will get around the year training under some foreign coaches.

Tirkey is, however, already looking beyond Sundargarh and said the idea would be spread the sport across the state.

“Thirty or 40 years ago some more districts had hockey players. The idea is to develop infrastructure there as well in the near future,” he added.