“Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness… and so frivolous is he that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient enough to amuse him.”
These are the lines of the famous Blaise Pascal. Sports, indeed has an incredible power to make people forget everything else in life. No country, no state, no place is complete without sports. So what if it is a quintessential state of a quintessential country.
Sports, in Odisha, has always been a source of entertainment, enthusiasm and at times glory too. So much so, that sports is followed and taken up by people of diverse backgrounds. From the plush people of the big towns and cities like Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, to the tribal people from remote areas of the state, everybody has some love for some form of sports or other. It is not just the background of the people that is diverse, even the choice of sports is pretty diverse – from athletics to hockey to cricket to soccer to chess – Odisha has something to offer to almost everyone.
It was hockey that pushed Odisha to prominence on the sporting map of India and today, the Tirkeys – Dilip, Prabodh and Ignace, Lazrus Barla and many others have brought laurels to the state. The Odisha players have been consistently performing at the top level and have carved a niche for themselves. Talking of carving a niche, Sradhanjali Samantaray has a place for herself in the sporting fraternity. A dedicated footballer, she has captained the national women’s football side and has been one of the better captains of the Indian team.
It is really great to see that the members of the fairer sex have been outstanding in the field of sports in Odisha. Ranu Mohanty has been an outstanding weight lifter. Anuradha Biswal is making a name for herself in athletics. The young girls Kiran, Manisha Mohanty and Padmini Rout have caused palpitations in the world of chess at the global level. Talking about chess, one can’t forget to mention the name of Swayangsu Satyapragyan. He has been a consistent performer at the international level and is perhaps one of the first popular and successful chess players of Odisha.
Odisha has shown a fair amount of interest in some lesser known sports as well. It is not just interest but Odisha has achieved quite a lot of success too in games like Soft-ball, Baseball and Rugby. While Rugby players of Odisha have found themselves donning India colours, the administration of Baseball and Softball has got accolades from the entire nation. Odisha has regularly played host to various national level Baseball and Softball championships and there are plans of building a state-of-the-art international level Baseball stadium so that the state can host international matches too.
As far as hosting international matches is concerned, the Barabati Stadium at Cuttack is one name that springs to mind. Barabati Stadium has regularly hosted cricket one day international matches. The stadium has not been allotted a test match since 1995 but the recent developments might end the test match drought soon. Cuttack hosted the Challenger Trophy, the premier Domestic One Day tournament this season and had a record number of spectators for the finals.
Its not just about hosting matches when it comes to cricket. The current President of the Odisha Cricket Association and former selector of the national team was the first person from Odisha to kindle hopes of playing top level cricket but he couldn’t. He was followed by a few more names which promised to break the barrier but couldn’t do so. Players like P. Jayachandra, Rashmi Ranjan Parida and Pravanjan Mullick showed a lot of promise but couldn’t make the final cut. The dreams of having an international player from Odisha were fulfilled by Debasis Mohanty who became the first test cricketer from Odisha. His swing was the talk of the town for quite sometime but he couldn’t sustain at the top level for a very long time. He was followed by Sanjay Raul who was drafted into the Indian side as an all rounder in 1998 when the Indian Board decided to split the Indian team between the Sahara Cup in Toronto and the Commonwealth Games. But he couldn’t play for India again. Then came Shiv Sunder Das. He played quite a bit of Test cricket but India’s constant search of a consistent opening pair and the chop and change resulted by that forced him out of the side and since then he has not been able to stage a comeback. Since 2002, no Odia has managed to play at the International Level.
Lately, a few youngsters like Rakesh Mohanty, Paresh Patel, Subit Biswal, Haladhar Das and Niranjan Behera have shown some promise but an international cap seems distant. In fact it has been shocking to see that there has not been much representation from Odisha even in the Challenger Trophy. This is especially because of the step-motherly treatment of the Board towards Odisha.
That is one of the few reasons why sports has not been able to explode in the state. There has been a prejudice against Odisha and due to that, the talents of the people are not properly assessed nor are they properly rewarded. Then there is this problem of a lack of proper infrastructure and technology to assist the sportsmen. Another shocker is the lack of financial aid and sponsorship even to sportspersons who are world class. Sometimes one gets a feeling that sports is not taken seriously by the state. Right from the childhood, sports is always treated as a leisure activity. So when people grow up, they treat even professional sports in a similar manner. However, sports continues to fight against all odds and true sportsmen continue to try making their state proud.