The Hockey Insider: Multi-million price tags again driving hockey World Cup to Bhubaneswar

The Hockey Insider

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The costly price tag for bringing the second successive men's hockey World Cup to India has left little options for the organisers but to take the premier event back to Odisha's capital, Bhubaneswar.

India became the first country to earn the right to host back-to-back World Cups earlier this month when the International Hockey Federation (FIH) €" headed by former Hockey India chief Narinder Batra €" decided in favour of the Indian national association's bid.

Breaking the news of India's bid, Firstpost.com had highlighted the flutter it had caused among other candidate cities. The bonanza offered by India was something the FIH was not accustomed to receiving and the exercise to select the host nation became a formality thereafter.

Hockey India had pledged a guarantee of 3.5 million Swiss Francs to clinch the improbable deal. Never before in the last five-decades had the global body sanctioned back-to-back global events to same country. Not even the dominant Netherlands and Australia €" sharing global supremacy in the past three decades €" thought of putting in bids for successive World Cups.

Despite some other states expressing interest in putting in bids for the World Cup, they were lagging far behind the quick decision making by the Odisha government, which obviously eased the pressure on Hockey India. The Hockey Insider has learnt that the backing for Bhubaneswar was available to Hockey India even before the title encounter of the 2018 World Cup got underway.

This was the same time when the international officials first got hint of India joining the bidding fray. Seeking event organisation knowledge from the World Cup organisers in Bhubaneswar, the foreign delegates were surprised that India refused to share information and said another Indian bid was being considered.

Having made a huge commitment, something the international hockey community was not familiar with, Hockey India can be excused for taking the beaten path to Bhubaneswar. That the Odisha government was willing to underwrite a major share of the expenses and also step in as promoters and sponsors of the tournament was a bonanza that boosted Hockey India's confidence.

It was during Batra's reign at the helm of Hockey India that the national body had marketed the concept of a city/state paying a guarantee fee to earn the right to stage an international event. That trend began with Chhattisgarh's capital, Raipur, hosting the 2015 World League Finals. Subsequently, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow also signed away crores of rupees to secure hosting rights for the senior and junior World Cups.

Over the past four years, Bhubaneswar has acquired a pivotal position in global hockey, what with the administrators deciding to put the state's name on the Indian team uniforms for a hefty price and also taking up title sponsorship of the last World Cup.

Now, Odisha's capital is bracing to corner the glory of being the global hockey community's preferred venue for successive 16-nation World Cups for men. This expensive price tag, and the pressure of a challenging economic scenario, made Bhubaneswar the front-runner from the word go.

The fee being paid for bringing the 2023 World Cup to India mandates that the host city/state will be the one loosening the purse strings. A strong argument was made by hockey officials of Uttar Pradesh, who insisted that Lucknow could again prove to be an ideal venue.

"Dribble Centre" is the label already acquired by Bhubaneswar In international hockey circles. The manner in which the whole city became part of the festive 2018 World Cup made a member of the champion Belgium squad tell The Hockey Insider that it would be a very tough act to follow.

Not many countries were keen to enter into a comparison, not even The Netherlands, that boasts of an obsessive hockey community that has the commercial sponsors supporting hockey events. After all, the Netherlands, arguably the best hockey destination in Europe, had only staged a joint men and women's World Cup at The Hague in 2014.

India's massive financial guarantee caused a reduction of bidders to just three nations. World Cup holders Belgium and Malaysia were the only two other bidders still in the fray, both hoping the FIH would prefer a change of venue from India. Financially, they came nowhere near the Indian bid €" and that was all which mattered in the end when India were allocated the 2023 World Cup.

The cost of the World Cup is making sure that the prestigious event stays in Bhubaneswar. The FIH, obviously, is too smug at this juncture to ponder over future World Cups being able to match the guaranteed amount of 3.5 million Swiss Francs.

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