Former Indian hockey team captain and current Rajya Sabha MP Dilip Tirkey is on a mission to convince the tribal youth of Odisha to take up hockey instead of joining the Maoist forces. He is hoping to make them understand that hockey can provide them with financial stability and a better life.
"The Maoists, in some pockets of Odisha, are very strong and they always look to increase their numbers. We have so many talented hockey players, but many of them are forced to pick up guns instead of hockey sticks. It has a lot to do with the poverty and the lack of education in the region," Tirkey told TOI.
Tirkey, who still remains India’s most capped player with 412 appearances, is leading an Odisha state government campaign to urge the tribal youths to take up hockey. The government is set to conduct the Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship across 32 venues in Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chattisgarh from December 10. The tournament is set to feature 30,000 players, of which many are from the various tribal groups, and 1750 teams.
Sundargarh, the place which has been affected the worst by Maoist infiltration, is the hometown of Tirkey, who is a tribal himself. The town has produced numerous hockey players for the nation, and Tirkey has hoped that this tournament can once again ignite the passion for the game in this region and connect the youth with their hockey heritage. He said, "The rural hockey tournament will attract the youth and I hope it is a step in the right direction.
"We are trying to make them understand that there is another world which offers them a job, security, financial stability and a much better social life. They are naturally talented and just need proper grooming to make it big in hockey. We have several hockey academies in the state and the famous one in Panposh has produced so many world-class players. It's a Herculean task for us but we are making sincere efforts and are hoping the situation will change soon.”
Tirkey is hoping that he can act as an inspiration to the youth as an example of how this sport can change someone’s life for good.
"I have achieved everything in life because of hockey and I must give it back to society. I want to make my people understand that if I could achieve so much through the sport, so can they. I'm sure our initiative will have a huge impact on the society," Tirkey added.