Ever since Salman Khan appeared on a press conference with Sardar Singh and Mary Kom and announced that he would be the “goodwill ambassador” for the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics, it has become the most debated issue in India’s sporting universe.
“I am honoured that Indian Olympic Association has chosen me as the goodwill ambassador for the Indian contingent for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It is a matter of great national pride that our athletes are performing better and better at the Olympic Games and I think we should all join hands in giving them every support and cheer for them so that Rio 2016 becomes our best,” Salman had said.
However, the appointment soon snowballed into a controversy, with former and current sportspersons, experts and analysts all finding themselves on either side of the debate. While many have lauded the IOA for appointing a popular Bollywood star who could help promote Olympic disciplines in a cricket-mad country, others have blasted the organisation for overlooking the claims of sportspersons, saying a sporting icon would have been a better fit than a showbiz celebrity.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Salman is essaying the role of a wrestler in his upcoming movie Sultan. Many believe this appointment would do nothing for the Olympics, but will help the star create buzz and publicity regarding his movie.
Countering this, say others, Bollywood and sports have always had a symbiotic relationship in India and, especially considering that Salman is doing the thing for free, there is nothing wrong with it.
Here’s a selection of all the comments in favour of and against Salman’s appointment.
Sardar Singh, India hockey captain:
Salman has a huge fan base. He has good views on sports and it’s a good thing for Indian sports that he has come on board. A lot of people are getting connected to Olympic sports because of him. People are entitled to their views and I respect their opinion.
Mary Kom, wrestler, bronze-medal winning Olympian:
It hasn’t happened before, so it’s a good thing for the athletes. It’s good for us to have a brand ambassador like him.
Vishwanathan Anand, chess legend:
If the things that the sports people need are addressed, then there is no conflict in having non-sports people participate. In fact, we want everyone to get involved.
Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual gold medal winning Olympian:
I'm sure you (Salman) will use your tremendous goodwill to help Indian Olympic Sport and Olympic athletes in their pursuit towards excellence. Congratulations on being appointed ambassador of the Indian Olympic team. An absolute honour, which comes with great responsibility.
Sunil Gavaskar, former India cricket captain:
If he can bring a lot more awareness to that particular profession, then why not? I don’t see anything wrong in it. How has the IPL benefitted by having Bollywood stars in it? It has helped considerably by bringing crowds to the stadium. Having Shah Rukh, Preity (Zinta) in the ground, a lot of people come to see them, so that’s a plus.
Krishna Poonia, Commonwealth Games gold-medallist discus thrower:
There is no dearth of athletes in our country. There is P T Usha, Sachin Tendulkar, so many who have done us proud. The public, however, loves film stars and probably it was thought that it would help popularise Olympic sports. I wish all the luck in his new role.
Subhash Ghai, Bollywood filmmaker:
Medal or more medals? Salman Khan can definitely inspire youth next to participate in Olympics and win many more medals in every sport...youth looks up to him.
Hema Malini, Bollywood actress and BJP MP:
People love him so much. So if he is the brand ambassador, what is the problem? Olympics doesn't get the viewership it deserves, which cricket gets, and that's because we watch it more and other sports don't get it because we don't watch them...we are to be blamed.
Salim Khan, Salman's father:
Salman Khan may not have competed but is an A level swimmer cyclist and weight lifter.. Sportsmen are performing because of sports lovers like us.
Milkha Singh, former Indian sprinter and Olympian:
I am of the view that our sportspersons — be those from shooting, athletics, volleyball or other sports — are the real ambassadors of India who would represent the country in the Olympics. Still, if we had to pick an ambassador, it could have been from the sporting arena. India has produced so many sportspersons who have given their sweat and blood for the country, like PT Usha, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Ajit Pal and so many others. One of these could have been made a goodwill ambassador. What was the need to import a person from Bollywood? I want to make it clear that I am not against Salman Khan, but the decision of the IOA is wrong and the Government should intervene in the matter. This is for the first time I am seeing a Bollywood hero being made goodwill ambassador for Olympics. I want to ask, has Bollywood ever made any sportsperson an ambassador for any of their mega events? I want that the decision to name Salman Khan as ambassador be revised.
Yogeshwar Dutt, Olympic bronze-medallist:
Everybody has the right to promote movies in India, but Olympics is not a place to promote films. Can anyone tell me what is the role of goodwill ambassador? Why are you fooling the public? The country needs medals, not sponsors.
Anil Vij, BJP leader and Haryana Health and Sports Minister:
Indian Olympic Association should have appointed some renowned Indian sportsman to represent India in Rio Olympics. Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt has brought many laurels for the country in wrestling Yogeshwar Dutt forget Salman Khan. You are a real hero, Salman is a filmy hero. Real heroes, not filmy hero will bring medals for the country.
Gautam Gambhir, Indian cricketer:
I would have been happy if someone like Abhinav Bindra would have been named as an ambassador. There are a lot of sportspersons who have done a lot for sport. Ideally, one among them should have been given that responsibility. Sportspersons do not need publicity, they do the job for the country. This does not give real excitement to a sportsperson. I think a sportsperson should have been a much preferred choice. As he (Bindra) is the first guy who has won a gold medal at the Olympics. He would have been the ideal choice. I have heard someone saying that sportsmen need publicity and sportspersons need Bollywood - my take is completely different.
With inputs from agencies