For keen observers of Indian football, or the sporting scenario in India at large, it would have come as no surprise when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced Odisha as the host for the upcoming edition of the Indian Women's League (IWL) on Sunday.
For, the state has been a constant pillar of support for all sporting activities in the recent past, not just football. In fact, excellence in and commitment to sports is one of the stated aims of the Odisha Government.
Odisha have built commendable sports infrastructure in the state, around the capital of Bhubaneswar, including top-notch stadiums, practice facilities and residential complexes to support athletes and sportspersons.
Odisha is the unofficial capital of Hockey in India, with the national team based out of the Kalinga stadium in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, and are currently building the country's biggest hockey stadium in Rourkela. They support various athletes from other disciplines as well, including those training for the Olympics.
In a footballing sense, Odisha is a strategic partner of the AIFF. The agreement sees the state providing access to their impressive training and stadium facilities for various Indian national teams across age groups.
They also provide the base for AIFF's developmental side Indian Arrows, which includes some of the brightest youngsters in the country, and hosts their I-League matches.
This focus on sports development is part of the Odisha Government's initiative to reach out to the youth of the state and give them a platform to realise their dreams. And their initiatives are having a social impact too.
"Odisha sponsors the Indian Arrows team and the U17 national team. We are supporting the future of Indian football. In fact, our girls have performed better than boys and we have been supporting them as well. Therefore, we are one of the host venues of FIFA U17 Women's World Cup. Many of the girls come from rural areas, and football has changed their lives," Vineel Krishna IAS (Special Secretary, Sports & Youth Services Department, Govt of Odisha) said in September 2020.
The hosting of the IWL is also a reminder of their commitment to women's football too. They've already started a state women's league, something of a rarity in India. It was also no surprise that the state was an automatic choice to be one of the hosts for the 2022 U17 Women's World Cup, perhaps the most prestigious footballing tournament to be held in India next year.
"Hosting the 2020-21 edition of the Indian Women’s League (IWL) will be another feather in the cap of Odisha Sports. Under the leadership of Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik, Odisha has turned into the biggest sporting hub in our country. The CM's leadership has been driving a sporting revolution in the state. I am sure the IWL will lead to tremendous excitement amongst the football aficionados of the state. We look forward to hosting a successful edition of the tournament," Vishal Kumar Dev IAS (Principal Secretary, Sports & Youth Services Department, Govt of Odisha) said after the IWL announcement.
Odisha are fast turning themselves into a sporting destination in the country and that is an accomplishment that has been driven by the two aforementioned administrators in Mr. Vineel Krishna IAS and Mr. Vishal Kumar Dev IAS.
In implementing the vision of the Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, the dynamic Principal Secretary & Special Secretary for sports in Odisha have done remarkably well to ensure the state remained a constant in India's sporting scenario, even amid a challenging pandemic. India's sporting destination, indeed!