Rourkela (Odisha), Dec 10 (IANS) Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Saturday inaugurated the Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Tournament which will see over 1400 teams from Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh competing for the title from December 16 to March 17.
Inaugurating the event, organised by former national team captain and tribal sports icon Dilip Tirkey at the SAIL Hockey Stadium, Ansari said hockey is the soul, air and water in these regions.
He also said that hockey will get a further boost through this tournament which will be competed among the teams coming from the villages.
"Hockey is a popular sport in this region and this tournament will help Odisha continue to produce top sportspersons in the future," Ansari said in his speech.
The tournament will take place at 32 venues. Dilip said that a total of 1,458 teams have confirmed their participation. There is no age bar for participants.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Odisha Sports Minister Sudam Marandi and Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram were also present during the event.
Former Olympians Michael Kindo, Ashok Kumar, A.B. Subbaiah and Ignace Tirkey were also present, alongside current India defender Birendra Lakra.
Dilip said that the aim is not only to encourage rural youth towards hockey but also to inspire youth living in and around Maoist-infested areas to pick up the hockey stick and drop the gun.
The region where the matches would be played is part of the belt with a strong Maoist presence.
Dilip, India's record cap holder, asserted that the region has a long history of producing great players -- 1928 Olympic-winning team Jaipal Singh Munda, Kindo, Lazaraus Barla, Prabodh and Ignace Tirkey and current star Birendra Lakra.
He also named several women players -- former national team captains Jyoti Sunita Kulu and Shubhadra Pradhan among others as the pride of the region.
"Since ages tribal people are attached to hockey. We have a long legacy of hockey. However, due to many social problems and the Red Corridor issues, we have seen the diminishing craze of hockey over the past few years," the 39-year-old Rajya Sabha member told reporters.
"So through this tournament we want to again create the right tournament for the sport. The youth need to continue the hockey legacy of this region and we are trying to help them dream of a better life."
Subbaiah and Ashok Kumar thanked Dilip for creating a platform for the budding talents of the region.