May, 24

Chennai set to host Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament

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International hockey is set to return to Chennai after a 15-year gap, albeit in a small way. The Tamil Nadu capital will host the 7th Asian Champions Trophy, featuring the top six teams in the continent, during August 3-12.

Until 2008, the metropolitan city hosted some international hockey tournaments, including the now-discontinued Men’s Champions Trophy Hockey in 2005. However, it lost its status and importance to a more pro-active Bhubaneswar and Delhi.

But the city could regain some of its lost glory by hosting the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament.

Apart from India, a three-time winner of the trophy, South Korea (defending champion ), Malaysia, Pakistan, Japan and China will take part in the tournament, to be played at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium.

A blue astroturf has replaced the old green one that was laid for the Champions trophy in 2005, during the reign of the late J Jayalalithaa – green was her favourite colour.

And, there is more than one cause to celebrate. Chennai will also be using the world’s first zero-carbon astroturf during the tournament.

Moghul Mohammed Muneer, Technical Officer of the tournament, said: “The turf has been laid by Polytron and consumes 30 per cent less water than the normal astroturf.”

Usually, an astroturf requires 15,000-20,000 litres of water for the first match, and lesser amounts of water in the subsequent two matches. “This astroturf will retain water for a longer period. The stadium, after being refurbished, has been upgraded to global standards. It is now on a par with the Bhubaneswar hockey stadium standards,” he said.

V Pachiappan, 55, an ardent hockey fan, is ecstatic that his favourite sport is back in Chennai. His memories of the 2007 Asia Cup final are fresh, as he recollects, “I never took my eyes off the brilliant dribbling of Prabhjot Singh piercing through the opponent’s defence,” he said.

A year later in 2008, India prevailed 4-1 in a five-match Test series played against Belgium in the city. However, since then, the city has not hosted s single international hockey event, with the action shifting to Delhi and Bhubaneswar, which have better infrastructure.

Odisha has been the first choice for international games in India, hosting two World Cups – in 2018 and 2023 – and FIH Pro League games.

“Thanks to the efforts of Hockey India, the Odisha and Tamil Nadu governments, hockey is back in Chennai. It is going to be a sell-out,” said Olympian V Bhaskaran, under whose leadership India last won an Olympic gold in 1980.

The Tamil Nadu government allocated Rs 16 crore to construct the world’s first Paris Turf, renovate the stadium and undertake development works to conduct the international level competition.

Bomman, the mascot

The tournament’s mascot is the elephant Bomman, inspired by the Oscar-winning Netflix documentary The Elephant Whisperers, where the mahout Bomman took care of an orphaned baby elephant Raghu, alongside his wife, Bellie.

“What a beautiful tribute to majestic elephants and the dedicated Mahouts of Tamil Nadu! Meet BOMMAN, the vibrant and playful mascot for Hockey for the Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023,” tweeted Tamil Nadu Environment Secretary Supriya Sahu.

In April, the state Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin said hosting the tournament would revive the sport in the region. Watching top teams in Asia will also inspire the younger generation to take up hockey as a career.

Chennai should not stop with this tournament. There should be test series with other countries, said Bhaskaran.

Riaz Mohammed, a former captain of the Indian hockey team, said, “It’s great to have Asian champions in Chennai after a long gap. It’s a great booster for Indian hockey and the Tamil Nadu youth hockey players for future development.”

A veteran hockey player-cum-administrator, who did not wish to be identified, said the Asian Champions trophy didn’t enthuse him, compared to the 2005 World Champions trophy that brought the best of global talent.

With Tamil Nadu successfully hosting the Chess Olympiad, the State government is leaving no stone unturned to make the hockey tournament a memorable event.

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