New Delhi: Bollywood superstar Salman Khan's appointment as goodwill ambassador of the Indian Olympic contingent has triggered a furore, with star wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt and sprint legend Milkha Singh questioning the move, even as IOA and some other athletes backed the decision.
Salman, who is playing the role of a wrestler in his upcoming film Sultan, was named goodwill ambassador by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on Saturday in the presence of star woman boxer MC Mary Kom, hockey captain Sardar Singh, shooter Apurvi Chandela among others.
The position itself is unprecedented and IOA's decision to pick Salman for it left the sporting fraternity divided, with London Olympics bronze-medallist Yogeshwar and Milkha leading the criticism. "Everybody has the right to promote movies in India, but Olympics is not a place to promote films," Yogeshwar tweeted in Hindi. "Can anyone tell me what is the role of a goodwill ambassador? Why are you fooling the public?" he added.
The 33-year-old felt a sportsperson would have been more apt for the position. "Sportspersons like PT Usha and Milkha Singh strived hard for the nation during difficult times. But what has this ambassador done in sports. What will happen by the appointment of an ambassador? If you had to do this drama, then why not appoint a sportsperson? The country needs medals, not sponsors," he said.
Milkha too felt that the IOA has taken a wrong decision and should reconsider the move. "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?" he asked.
The IOA, however, backed the decision to name Salman. "When celebrities who appeal to public come forward to help, naturally we get more publicity, which is good for sports. The trend among the youth is that they look towards such film celebrities. If we utilise them there's no harm," IOA vice-president Tarlochan Singh said. "We're getting his (Salman Khan) help and not giving him anything. IOA is not paying him a penny," he added.
Milkha, who won the gold medal at the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games, said the fact that no Indian sportsperson had been picked up as an ambassador saddened him. "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 the Olympics. I want to ask, has Bollywood ever made any
sportsperson an ambassador for any of their mega event?" he said. "I want the decision to name Salman Khan as
ambassador be revised," he said.
The sentiment was also echoed by the likes of former hockey star Dhanraj Pillay. "I would like to see a sportsperson as brand ambassador. We have legendary players such as Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Abhinav Bindra, etc. No doubt Salman is one of the best faces of Bollywood and whatever he says sells. But in sports, I feel sportpersons should be the ambassadors," Pillay said.
However, Sardar and Mary Kom felt that the Bollywood celebrity's mass appeal would help raise awareness about
Olympic sports ahead of the Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. "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. (But) People are entitled to their views. I respect their opinion," Sardar said.
"It hasn't happened before, it's a good thing for the athletes. It's good for us to have a brand ambassador like
him," opined Mary Kom, a bronze-medallist from the 2012 London Olympics.
Commonwealth Games gold-medallist discus thrower Krishna Poonia said that although an athlete would have been a better choice, Salman's popularity is undeniable. "There is no dearth of athletes in our country. There is PT Usha, Sachin Tendulkar, so many who have done us proud. The public, however, loves filmstars and probably it was
thought that it would help popularise Olympic sports. I wish him all the luck for his new role," Poonia said.