Bhubaneswar makes World Cup memorable with special events

A view of the Kalinga Stadium and fan park in Bhubaneshwar. Image: Hockey India

While the world has been smitten with the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela, Odisha’s capital city Bhubaneswar gets ready to welcome Team India for the first time this World Cup. Bhubaneswar, which has become a second home to India’s hockey stars has already hosted sixteen matches so far this World Cup and is the only city on the planet to host two consecutive hockey World Cups.

Dubbed the ‘temple city’, Bhubaneswar has hosted several high-profile hockey tournaments including two men’s World Cups, a junior men’s World Cup, FIH Pro League matches and Olympic qualifiers. For most locals, the iconic Kalinga Stadium might be the third most visited place after their workplaces and homes.

The stadium, which holds several sports high-performance centers has been literally, lit up for the FIH Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023. Vibrant lights have been hanged all around the facility to provide a sense of wonder, and fans are having the time of their lives. One such fan, Sidhant Satpathy, a medical student, spoke to Firstpost after the high-octane clash between Germany and Belgium on Tuesday. “Like most people in this city and state, my family loves hockey. The moment the World Cup tickets went on sale, we bought them. I’ve been to the stadium countless times, be it for football, hockey, or even athletics events. But this World Cup is different. The decorations, the quality of matches, everything feels special.”

When a fan enters the stadium through the main gate number three, now a major landmark of the city, they will encounter fan parks on both sides. Named after the World Cup mascot, Olly, the fan park – Olly’s Land is a place for people of all ages. Olly represents the olive ridley sea turtles which travel thousands of kilometers from the Pacific and Indian Ocean to the coasts of Odisha in the month of November and December.

Fans can cherish some of the best delicacies from all across the world, click pictures with the scintillating World Cup trophy, while also enjoying hockey matches on the big screen. One can also purchase World Cup merchandise and indulge in some hockey related activities at the venue. The World Cup anthem – Hockey Hai Dil Mera keeps playing in the background with each fan tapping their feet to the wonderful composition. Moving forward to the hockey stadium, the fans see the standees of the sixteen team captains and can pose for pictures with every single one of them. No prizes for guessing which captain has been the crowd’s favorite. They’ve been eagerly waiting to witness Harmanpreet’s drag-flicks.

One player who is familiar with Harmanpreet’s drag-flicks and has become a crowd favorite this World Cup is Belgium’s first rusher Victor Wegnez. The player who won the player of the match against South Korea in Belgium’s opening match was all praise for the venue. “I always enjoy playing here. The crowd is super energetic and cheers a lot for us.” Talking about a potential quarter-final with India, Wegnez said, “It will obviously be a tough fixture. I played India in India at the junior World Cup in 2016 and it was great. I’d much rather face them later, maybe in the finals but we’ll be ready to play them in the quarters if that’s the case.”

After India, Belgium and Australia are definitely the crowd favorites. Players such as Tom Boon and Aran Zalewski received quite some love from people in the stands as they walked past the mixed zone after giving their interviews. Fans were chanting their names, and the players waved back with smiles on their tired faces. Such is the energy of Bhubaneswar.

The government has left no stone undraped as the city also hosts a cultural and musical festival to celebrate the mega-hockey festival coming back to Odisha. The Dot Fest (. Fest) is a gala that showcases the best and finest of Bhubaneswar. The festival displays the grandeur of food from all the sixteen nations participating in the World Cup. Famous artists, comedians are also scheduled to perform every night at the fest, running simultaneously with the hockey World Cup.

All that’s left now, is for Team India to take the turf at the iconic stadium and entertain the crowd with goals.

Graham Reid’s men played their opening two pool stage fixtures at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela and have come back to their ‘second home’ as captain Harmanpreet Singh says, to play their final pool stage against Wales on 19 January.

Bhubaneswar will be hosting all the knockout fixtures, right from the crossover round starting on 22 January to the final game of the tournament on 29 January. Fans will be hoping that India will stand tall on the podium less than two weeks from now lifting the 6.5 kg FIH Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 trophy.

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