Napoklu, a small town 21 km away from district headquarters Madikeri, is all set to host what is termed the world’s largest field-hockey tournament, as the annual Kodava hockey festival will be held from March 18 to April 9 after a four-year gap.
The town has only three mud grounds. On Thursday, workers were seen preparing the grounds for the tournament, while temporary bleachers were up on all sides of the ground where 30,000 spectators can be accommodated, said Navin, a member of the festival organising committee, while overseeing preparations at the Napoklu General Thimayya Ground.
“In all, three grounds will be utilised for the hockey tournament and they will also be used as a backup in case it rains,” he said. Multiple galleries, lighting, speakers, and display boards have been set up on the ground. An estimated ₹1.5 crore have been spent to organise the event by the family.
The Kodava community in the hilly district conducts the inter-family hockey tournament every year where Kodava players from over 200 families come together to play. From 2018, the hockey festival was not held due to large-scale devastation caused by heavy rainfall and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sporting event has no bar on age or gender. The only rule of forming a team is that all members must be from the same family.
This year, the Appachettolanda family is organising the tournament under the aegis of Kodava Hockey Academy. “From every family, young boys and girls, men, women, and professionals, and former hockey players who have represented the State or country, will be part of the family team. Through this event, we are bringing all the Kodavas together. Most of the community members who are outside the district working in various professions come to Kodagu to be part of the sporting event like a festival,” said Appachettolanda Manu Muthappa, president of the Hockey Festival Committee.
The late Pandanda Kuttappa conceived the idea of the Kodava family hockey tournament, which morphed into a major sporting event and festival in the country. “Mr. Kuttappa started the Kodava Family Hockey Tournament in 1997 and was organised by the Pandanda family first in a belief that tapping the inherent love among the Kodavas for hockey could help bring the families and the community together,” Mr. Muthappa noted.
The tournament also emerged as a platform for the community members to discuss trade and business interests besides scouting for marital alliances, according to Maletira Srinivas, secretary of Kodava Hockey Academy. “In the first tournament which was held in 1997, nearly 60 teams took part. The format of the tournament was such that every year, one of the Kodava families had to host the event. Now, over 200 families participate where 3,000 players play hockey,” Mr. Srinivas said.
“Starting with the first tournament, the numbers have increased, reaching a high of 281 in 2003, where this event became the world’s largest hockey tournament. Lasting three weeks, it is a single-elimination tournament and concludes on April 9,” he added.
CM to inaugurate
The Kodava Hockey Namme (festival) is hosted by a different family each year and named after it. Families apply to the Kodava Hockey Academy expressing interest and are allotted the tournament after evaluation. There is no permanent venue; the festival has been held across the district in previous years.
On March 18, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai will inaugurate the festival, which will open with an exhibition match between India Junior XI and Karnataka Men’s XI. The organisers said the festival is held at an estimated cost of ₹ 1.5 crore all raised through funds. While the winning team of the festival this year will be given a cash prize of ₹3 lakh, the runners-up will get ₹2 lakh, and the second runner-up will get ₹1 lakh.