1,200 employees, 24×7 shifts, hundreds of crores: Rourkela ready for World Cup hockey

When Prime Minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone for a new hockey stadium in Rourkela on February 16, 2021 – in the midst of a pandemic – announcing that it would become a second venue for the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cupwere many, even within the government skeptical about its timely completion. So much so that the International Hockey Federation had to give the state a November 30 deadline to complete the main structure and lay the turf.

For two years, more than 1,200 migrant workers – many of them from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal – have been working around the clock in three shifts to build the stadium. And less than three weeks before the first game, the large saucer-shaped steel structure, with a capacity of about 21,000, stands tall on more than 16 acres of land.

A total of 20 matches will be played in the new stadium, named after freedom fighter and tribal icon Birsa Munda.

The Chief Minister is expected to open the structure, the country’s largest hockey stadium, in early January. Together with Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, it will host the FIFA World Cup from January 13 to 29. A total of 20 matches will be played in the new stadium, which will be named after freedom fighter and tribal icon Birsa Munda.

On the grounds of the stadium, workers continue to toil around the clock to put things together. While work on the stadium has already been completed and the ground was used for an exhibition match between junior teams from India and South Korea, large cranes have been deployed to repair the aluminum facades and glass windows and complete other structural work. Some other workers raced against time to complete roads, lawns, parking lots and other relief work on the stadium grounds.

Sabarish, the project manager at the site, said they built the stadium in just 15 months when they started work in August 2021.

“When we started, the piece of land was a jungle with thousands of large trees and shrubs, which has now turned into the largest stadium in the country. We have encountered several difficulties while carrying out work with the Covid regulations. Transporting materials, especially steel transported from Bhilai and the artificial turf imported from Germany, was also a challenge,” said Sabarish.

A total of 20 matches will be played in the new stadium, named after freedom fighter and tribal icon Birsa Munda.

The monsoon rains also affected work for months.

Approximately 3,600 tons of structural steel and 4,000 tons of TMT steel were used to build the stadium. Every seat is designed to provide an uninterrupted view and spectators will be closer to the field than in any other hockey stadium in the world, an engineer claimed without wishing to be named.

The state BJD government has not provided an official figure on the amount spent for the construction of the stadium in Rourkela. Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera said in a written reply on Nov. 24 that a total of Rs 875 crore has been spent for the construction of Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium and the upgrade of Kalinga Stadium. An official said that more than Rs 500 crore has been spent to build the new stadium.

Unlike other cities, players will not have to travel much in Rourkela during the event, as their accommodation, training ground, main stadium, swimming pool and gym are located close to each other. The newly developed airport is also adjacent to the stadium.

Given the constraints in the hospitality sector in the steel city, the Government of Odisha has developed 225 4-star category rooms, the management of which has been transferred to the Taj Group during the tournament. Over Rs 84 crore has been spent developing accommodation for players, support staff and officials.

“We have already completed 150 of the 225 rooms and transferred them to Taj Group. The remaining 75 rooms will be ready at the end of this month. The accommodation can cater for the needs of at least eight teams at a time. The swimming pool and state-of-the-art gym for players are also ready for use,” said Bhupendra Singh Poonia, managing director of the state-owned Idco which oversees the development of stadium and accommodation facilities in Rourkela.

The Sundargarh district administration has also reserved more than 100 rooms in various government guest houses in the city that will be used during the tournament. Biju Patnaik University of Technology staff quarters have also been upgraded to temporary housing facilities.

Stadium construction site. (Express file photo)

The steel city also has about 60 small and large hotels with about 1,500 rooms, which the administration says can be used by visitors and relatives of players watching their teams in action.

As a major improvement in connectivity to Rourkela ahead of the Hockey World Cup, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has licensed Rourkela Airport for public use. The Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), which owns the airport, has reportedly been given permission to operate 72-seat aircraft.

A view of the construction site (Express Photo/File)

Subhankar Mohapatra, additional district magistrate of Rourkela, said players will be flown directly to the city on charter flights hired by the state government. “For public use, Alliance Air will provisionally start commercial flights from Bhubaneswar to Rourkela from the first week of January,” he said.

The administration is also planning to start a shuttle service for flyers going to the nearest airport in Jharsuguda, which is a 2.5-hour drive from Rourkela.

Rourkela, the second smart city in Odisha next to Bhubaneswar, has undergone a massive transformation: wider roads, renovated sidewalks, lighting, improved drainage, renovated parks and fountains, gardens and sanitation facilities.

Panposh sports hostel (Express photo/file)

To enhance urban mobility during the event, the state government will introduce a fleet of 25 buses under the city bus project.

The security system and traffic management have been strengthened in the city with the installation of CCTVs. The sculptures and artworks along the main roads of the city also add color to the beautification of the city, while almost all the walls are resplendent with colorful murals of hockey legends, mythological figures and eminent Odia personalities, among others.

All this work was carried out with funding under the Smart City mission, Mahapatra said. However, the locals are apprehensive about its maintenance after the event ends. “We can see the change in practice with different projects being taken up by the administration. But the challenge will be to keep these projects going after the World Cup,” said Arabinda Patra, a city resident.

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