India will begin their title defence against France on the opening day, but minus the buzz in the stands at the Kalinga Stadium, which is usually teeming with fans. But in Covid times and with safety protocols against the virus becoming paramount, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and Hockey India have decided to host the tournament behind closed doors.
“I am told this is the first international sports event (in India) since the Covid pandemic started. So they are all being extremely careful. The spectators won’t be allowed,” Vineel Krishna, Secretary Sports and Youth Services, Government of Odisha, said talking to TimesofIndia.com.
The sheer number of people in India is one of the major worries that any foreign national travelling to India carries in Covid times. A look at the numbers in the Khordha district, under which Bhubaneswar falls, may slightly fan those worries. As of October 14, over 45% of cases in Odisha are in the Khordha region alone.
But Mr. Krishna allays any fears citing Bhubaneswar’s 100% vaccinated status.
“There are a couple of things. One is that Bhubaneswar is 100% vaccinated (for 18+ age group) for both the doses. In fact, Bhubaneswar was one of the first cities to be vaccinated 100%,” he said.
“In Bhubaneswar, we have focused on Covaxin because the period is shorter between the first dose and the second dose compared to Covishield. Therefore, we were able to vaccinate the entire eligible population in Bhubaneswar. Despite that, we do have cases, which is true. But it is all at a very mild level.
“Bhubaneswar being the capital (of Odisha) and a lot of people coming here, national and international…so naturally the numbers will be there, but it (the graph) is more or less stable or coming down,” the sports secretary assured.
“That also gave a certain level of confidence to the FIH inspection team because most of the international teams may have this worry regarding the spread of Covid,” Mr. Krishna told TimesofIndia.com.
Australia, New Zealand and England pulled out of the November 24 to December 5 tournament because of Covid-related travel restrictions. The FIH awarded those vacant spots to the next best-placed teams USA, Canada and Poland.
Bhubaneswar tryst with international hockey will continue after this edition of the men’s junior hockey World Cup. The city, which hosted the 2018 senior men’s World Cup, is scheduled to host the 2023 senior men’s World Cup as well, along with Rourkela as the second host city.