Cricket is equated to the status of a religion in India, and star cricketers are worshipped in this country, something that one doesn't witness quite often in other nations, especially in non-South Asian ones. That should not, in any way whatsoever, indicate the country with an estimated population of 1.3 billion lacks in talent in other sports. Virender Sehwag, the dashing Indian opener who happens to be the only Indian cricketer with two triple centuries in Test cricket, is starting a new innings — this time as a host on the sports show 'Umeed India', which premieres on Thursday evening on Epic and will feature 13 Indian athletes, both those who have done the country proud (Sakshi Malik, Dattu Bhokanal, Vinesh Phogat, Dutee Chand) as well as future prospects. Firstpost recently caught up with the 'Nawab of Najafgarh', in which he discusses his experience working on the show. Following is the full transcript of that discussion:
Firstpost (FP): What made you take up the show?
Virender Sehwag (VS): I like the concept because nobody did this kind of show for our athletes, and the amount of hard work they get to do behind the scenes (is something that) nobody gets to know. Because they all know they are participating in Olympics, and they are going for training abroad. When they don’t get medal, then people will put on their Twitter or Facebook that our athletes went to click selfies there. Some of the athletes actually spend eight hours a day (practising). If we can provide better facilities, better diet, then we can get more golds and more medals in the future.
FP: What role did you have in choosing the sportspersons who would be profiled?
VS: My role was to take their interviews, and the Epic channel and (their) production did the research and picked the athlete, those who are likely to get a medal for India in the upcoming Olympics. So I think they picked the right guys and girls so that I can take the interview, and I can get out from what they’re doing and what they’re thinking. So whoever I spoke to in their interview, I got to know a lot of things. Good things and bad things, and you will be amazed to know what facilities and difficulties they are getting while training and practicing.
FP: Were there any particular stories (from among the ones profiled) that really stood out for you? Could you elaborate on a couple?
VS: All the athletes, they’re very humble, and very grounded. They’re like us, normal people. There are two guys (I’d like to mention). One is Dattu Bhokanal. He is a rower. When you see his story on television, you’ll get to know that he started rowing in 2012, (and that) he didn’t know swimming, and he became third (sic) in the Olympic rowing championships (in Rio last year). So his story was like amazing. One more, the judo guy Avtar Singh. I’ve been to his house in Gurdaspur, and the kind of facilities he’s getting is nothing and still he participated in Olympics and competes at international level, its amazing. So when you will see these athletes, and hear their stories, you will feel good and proud about what these athletes are doing.
FP: What sort of struggle did you face as a budding cricketer?
VS: I didn’t face any challenge. After their stories, I was very lucky because cricket is a very big game in India, and wherever you go, you can get cricket facilities. But look at these guys. They hardly get any facilities, and still they are fighting and participating in Olympics, it’s an amazing story. So, as a cricketer, I don’t think I had any struggle in my early days.
FP: Have you ever drawn inspiration from an athlete who is not a cricketer?
VS: No, because I was playing game of cricket, so my hero was Sachin Tendulkar. I was watching him on television, and trying to copy him outside the television. So that was my childhood gone. And when I was growing up, I was watching a lot of badminton, lawn tennis, wrestling, (the latter) because Sushil Kumar lived near my house in Najafgarh and he was practicing in one of the akhadas, and we watched a lot of Kushti (Hindi for wrestling). So that kind of sport I like to watch.
FP: A sporting career can be a struggle for anyone, when the sport in question isn't cricket. Is this your way of ensuring the spotlight is turned on people who've been left out in the cold by the obsessive focus on cricket?
VS: I like the concept (of Umeed India). I got a lot of offers from other channels to host entertainment show, laughter show. But I didn’t take it up as it didn’t inspire me, and that kind of shows I don’t like to do. Umeed India, taking athletes interview, it inspires me. I want to see them, I want to hear their stories, and I want to see how they’re preparing for the Olympics. So actually I want to get to know that, because that’s why I signed this show, and I’m loving it. We’ve finished almost six to seven episodes, and now in coming days I’ll finish six more, and I’ll get to know more stories about other athletes, and get to meet other athletes as well. So I’m very happy that I'm doing this show.
FP: Will the show go beyond simply profiling sportspersons to helping aspiring athletes get the attention/access they need?
VS: We’re trying to tie up with a couple of institutes, and we’re trying to tie up with a couple of NGOs who can help the athletes, who can provide the funds to the athletes, so they can practise abroad also. So hopefully, we’ll tie up a couple of them and give that money to the athletes, so they can use it.
FP: Do you see yourself doing more TV shows of this nature?
VS: If opportunity comes, then I’ll see that.
Watch the full interview below: