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The next edition of the FIH Junior hockey World Cup is now around the corner. The tournament is scheduled to start on November 24 and will be hosted by the one state in the country which has become synonymous with hockey – Odisha.
The Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar will play host to 16 teams, including the likes of the most successful nation at the junior hockey World Cup – Germany (6 titles), Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Argentina, Pakistan, South Korea and of course hosts and defending champions – India, among others.
While Odisha by now has become proficient in hosting global hockey tournaments, this edition of the junior World Cup is a different kettle of fish because its a World Cup which is being organised in Covid times.

The Commissioner cum Secretary of the Department of Sports for the Government of Odisha – R Vineel Krishna was a guest on Times of India’s sports podcast Sportscast recently and talked about the various challenges in hosting a tournament of this size and scale.
“This is a new and challenging tournament that we are organising for two reasons. One – it is happening during the Covid pandemic and secondly because this is being organised at a very short notice. We practically decided just a couple of months back that Bhubaneswar is going to host this Junior WC. It was going to be organised in some other place in India but somehow it didn’t materialise and there was a request from Hockey India and our honorable CM, he has his love for hockey, and he readily agreed.” Krishna said on TOI Sportscast.

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Odisha were named the hosts in September this year. State Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at that time had said – “It is a short notice for making the arrangement for such an event, especially during the pandemic period. However, since the country’s prestige is at stake, we have readily agreed to host it.

All arrangements had to be made in a very short period of time, but as Vineel Krishna pointed out, since Odisha has the experience of staging global tournaments in the past, things fell into place smoothly.
Before this, Odisha has hosted the FIH Senior Men’s World Cup in 2018, the FIH World League Final in 2017 and also the Hockey Champions Trophy in 2014.
“Within a short period of two months we had to put everything in place. And of course Hockey India has a very professional team, they have coordinated many things very quickly. The confirmation in fact came in less than a month ago that we have got the go ahead to start the tournament on November 24, so we had to make sure that all arrangements are in place in a very short period of time. But since we have this experience, and that’s also the reason Hockey India thought that it’s better to organise the WC in Bhubaneswar, since we work together very closely and the systems are in place. So, even though there are challenges, we hope it will be a great World Cup to watch.” Krishna said on TOI Sportscast.

The tournament did receive a bit of a jolt when teams like Australia and New Zealand pulled out of not just this World Cup but other FIH tournaments also due to Covid related travel restrictions (quarantine requirements in the Tasman countries) and uncertainty. Hockey Australia and Hockey New Zealand in fact stated that they will not be able to participate in or host any FIH events till June 2022. England also chose to pull out later. But that also allowed teams like the USA, Canada and Poland to step in.
There will be no fans in the stadium this time for this World Cup, but hockey fans would have wanted to watch a team like Australia in action on their TV sets. But despite the absence of some of the bigger teams, Vineel Krishna feels the competitive flavour of the tournament will not be affected, purely because the top European and Asian nations are competing, including the most successful country of all time at this tournament – Germany.

“It’s always a treat to watch the Australian team play in the Kalinga stadium, but even though they are not here, overall the competition levels will be pretty high. If you look at it, it’s Germany who are the most successful team (6 Jr. hockey WC titles). All the European nations are here – Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, France, Argentina are also here, so I think the competition levels are going to be high. It’s definitely a disappointment that Australia, New Zealand and England couldn’t make it, but I think the overall competitive atmosphere is still intact.” Krishna said on TOI Sportscast.
Since this tournament is being held during Covid times, the responsibilities and the overall challenges for the organisers – both Hockey India and the state of Odisha have multiplied manifold. But every precaution possible is being taken to build a totally secure bio-bubble.
“We (Hockey India and the State Govt of Odisha) have to take care of the teams right from the time they leave their countries. From there if they are properly following all protocols, the tests, whether they are vaccinated. Since they are all coming from very far off areas, there are a lot of transit related issues. When they arrive in India, there are certain Covid protocols in our country. We have had discussions with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Sport, everybody co-operated. By the time the different teams land in Bhubaneswar, we have a team at the airport, then there is a transportation team. Then when they arrive at the hotel, we have to take care of the arrangements for the entire hotel, the floors on which the teams are staying. We conduct RT-PCR tests for the entire staff – for the transportation teams, the organisation team in the stadium and we do this regularly. If there are any positive cases we are prepared to immediately isolate them and see if it has been contained or if there is any fallout of that. This is a continuous everyday exercise. We have been extremely cautious from the beginning of the pandemic and we are one of the well managed states in the country. Another advantage is that Bhubaneswar’s entire eligible population (18+) is fully vaccinated.”

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