New Delhi: After supporting Indian hockey and football, the Odisha government has turned its attention to rugby, with the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) spearheading the revolution in the state.
In October 2020, the Odisha government and the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU) had signed an agreement to sponsor the national team for three years. Earlier this month, the Odisha government handed appointment letters for government jobs to 19 international-level rugby players.
IRFU president Rahul Bose called the decision a “life changing move”. “What can make any sport lover more happy than the fact that a player’s future beyond the sport has been secured for both her/him and their family,” he posted.
Odisha sports minister Tusharkanti Behera, too, agreed that the jobs provide a sense of security to the young players who are pursuing their career in rugby.
“It [employment] also encourages others to take up rugby as a professional sport. It adds inspirational and aspirational value,” Behera told ThePrint. “A major concern among sportspersons is social and financial security. Keeping this in mind, the Odisha government chalked out welfare schemes including cash incentives and jobs in state departments and PSUs for meritorious sportspersons and para sportspersons.”
The Odisha government provides these jobs under Group B & C categories in various departments of government and police with monthly salaries ranging from Rs 13,000 to Rs 32,000.
Of these 19 players who got jobs, 16 are from Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) alone. During the 2022 Asia Cup, Odisha had the maximum number of players in the women’s national team (19 out of 64) and second highest in the men’s team (8 out of 58).
Based in Bhubaneswar, KISS provides free-of-cost study to nearly 30,000 tribal students in a fully residential campus. Apart from sports and vocational training, it offers affiliated classes from class 1 to post graduation-level.
“The students are provided with food, clothes, boarding facility, world class sports facilities, computer labs with Wi-Fi campus, coaching, in-house medical facilities etc. all free of cost,” reads the Kalinga institute’s website.
‘Never imagined a govt job’
Rugby player Munna Murmu was overwhelmed when the appointment letter was handed to him. “My financial position was precarious. Ever since I came to KISS, things have turned around,” Munna told ThePrint. “We never imagined that we could get a government job by playing sports.”
The tribal player, who once dreamt of sitting on a plane, has already travelled to Malaysia, Thailand and Uzbekistan to represent India in rugby tournaments.
Like all other families, Munna’s parents were worried about the future of their son. “I did not tell my parents about the job till I got my letter. It was difficult to be sure if such a thing could actually happen,” he said.
Munna’s teammates Hupi and Rajkishore — all international rugby players from Odisha — are also elated after they were handed the job letters.
Woman rugby player Hupi Majhi, who is often called as India’s biggest rugby hope, was elated as well. ”I am from a very poor family. It [the job] means a lot to me. No one had a job in my family,” she said.
Another Kalinga product Rajkishore Murmu, who has neither of his parents, has represented India at various international level tournaments.
“How much can you play? You need some support at the end of the day. Money is not everything, but it is required…,” he said. “The government told us to continue with sports and to inform if there is any issue regarding the sport.”
Apart from thanking Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Rajkishore is grateful to KISS founder Achyuta Samanta. “Had he [Samanta] not got us here, we could not have thought of a government job,” the rugby player said.
The journey for nurturing young talents began 16 years ago when the Kalinga institute began to focus on rugby.
“In 2006 when we started rugby in KISS, there was hardly anything in the state. Our students were part of the U-13 (boys) World Cup winning team of 2007. The journey has been upwards since then,” KISS deputy director of sports Rudrakesh Jena told ThePrint.
The institute has produced 66 international rugby players so far, he said, adding that eight girls and five boys from KISS are part of the Odisha rugby team in the upcoming 36th National Games in Gujarat.
Rugby in India & Odisha
Compared to other sports, rugby has grown slowly in the country. The close-contact team sport has been included in the School Games Federation of India for all age-groups and the National University Games for men and women. It is also a part of the Services Sports Control Board and played by paramilitary and police forces.
In Odisha, female players have outshined their male counterparts. “Odia players form the largest representation from any state in the girls and women’s national rugby teams,” Behera claimed.
Major achievements of Odisha teams this year include silver at Junior Nationals Under-18 National Championship, and bronze at the Women’s Senior National Rugby 7s Championships.
“We are also in the process of introducing rugby as a discipline into our sports hostels. We are engaging international rugby coaches to groom our coaches as well as train the players,” Behera said, giving details of the roadmap ahead.
“India aspires to be amongst the top 10 countries by the 2032 Olympics. If each state adopts and supports a couple of sports, develops adequate infrastructure and invests in coaching and developing athletes, then collectively we can achieve that dream earlier,” he added.
Sailendra Kumar Jena, joint secretary of the sports and youth department, told ThePrint that the government plans to lay rugby fields across Odisha. Currently, there is only one proper rugby field in Bhubaneswar where the camps and training take place.
Jena added that the employment scheme would continue in future for all the international rugby players like in the case of other sports such as football, hockey and bodybuilding.
(Edited by Tony Rai)