The collective world of Indian sports has rarely had it so good, with country's athletes bagging 66 medals, including 26 gold, at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. The performance provides a great opportunity for the government to build upon the expanding base of sports-awareness in the country.
Taking a cue from the 'Khelo India' initiative, the sports ministry has engaged in talent hunt at multiple levels.
"In the past, the slogan to get talents in sports used to be 'catch them young', but nothing happened beyond that. We've come up with a comprehensive plan to promote sports right from identifying talent, providing training to funding and infrastructure building," said Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Sports and Youth Affairs, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Rathore, an Olympic silver medallist in shooting, spoke on various issues ranging from sports to politics, including the 'fake news' problem currently plaguing the country. Edited excerpts follow:
Khelo India School Games was a big success, where many talented youngsters came to the fore. What would be the next step in promoting sports and bringing out talent, both from rural and urban India?
The primary requirement of India is to have a broad base of sports where opportunity is available to every village, district and school. It is like a pyramid where the base should be strong — which is Khelo India — and the peak is the Olympic podium, which should be the target.
The space between the peak and bottom is covered by various important schemes, scholarship programmes, training programmes, national development fund, etc. We're hiring professionals for training sportspersons as well as our coaches. The government will also sponsor 1,000 players every year and give them Rs five lakh every year for eight years.
Another ambitious talent hunt programme is for children between the ages of eight and 12. The government will go for a countrywide awareness campaign for this so that a bank of 20 to 30 lakh children can be created out of which 10,000 children will finally be selected through a series of screening tests. They will undergo a DNA test, an IQ test and a motor-skills test to find out the right game they are suited for. Till now, only skill-based training has been provided and a child's natural ability was never properly identified.
Apart from the support by the Centre, the state governments will also have to allocate funds for sports from the state budget as it is a state subject. The more they do, the better players will come up from states.
What are the plans to bring big global tournaments to India, like FIFA-Under 17 World Cup that we witnessed last year?
We're bidding for the Under-21 football world cup. Now, there are only two categories – Under 21 and open. FIFA Under-17 was the last one. Every mega sporting event in the world is looking at India due to its large fan base and its strong economy. And, we won't miss any opportunity.
There are fewer sports in the school curriculum nowadays and a large number of schools don't have sports facilities…
The HRD ministry has instructed a cut in the syllabus from 2018-19. Now, the focus won't entirely be on academics. There will be compulsory sports and community service. In other countries, people take pride in mentioning community service in their CVs. Our ministry conducts a government-sponsored public service programme called National Service Scheme (NSS) under which the students from schools and universities give voluntary service to the society. Now, the plan is to showcase their work by having a page of every district on the NSS website.
Besides this, 50 districts have been identified. In each of these districts, one school will be made the nodal centre to provide training. The students will be able to get training in sports along with academics. An investment will be made on building infrastructure. Gradually, the scheme will be expanded to other districts.
Does the government plan to promote other potential sports that can become big, like badminton?
There is a gradual change in our sporting scenario. Besides the popular sports, we've our indigenous ones like Malkhamb, Kho Kho, Kabaddi, Kalaripayettu, etc, which despite being very popular, have remained neglected. Our focus is to make them a priority. Take the example of Shaolin. China has been funding the martial arts and it has not only thrived but progressed successfully over decades. We'll invest and encourage these sports, not only at the rural level but at the national level as well.
What about sports associations and federations that are often reluctant in their approach and care for sportspersons?
We've to do things jointly for the betterment and progress of sports. It can't be anyone's fiefdom. We've asked the federations to be professional and transparent. No single person can claim that the success has been due to her/him. It's always a collective effort. Sports federations and associations represent the entire nation.
We need to have in place an ecosystem comprising a system of selection of players, training, proper infrastructure facilities, better funding, etc. It should have a strong sports code and include good governance, similar to that of the International Olympic Committee. Besides that, it should have a complaint redressal mechanism. Federations must ensure that there's no conflict of interest and its laws should reflect integrity.
What steps are you taking to prevent doping, which is a major concern in sports?
As success in sports provides high incentive, one goes for doping, which is different from having nutritious food — to have extra energy. We've been running awareness campaigns against doping, telling sportspersons not to spoil their body. Anti-doping measures have been taken.
Till now, there was no doping test in school games. During Khelo India, we included anti-doping agencies. One needs to remember that winning at any cost is not acceptable. One can lose by giving a tough fight and a loss is never life-long. One can try harder next time and emerge a winner, we have seen this.
What's your take on the recent fake news issue?
First, I want clear a myth that our Prime Minister controls everything — from each ministry to every department. With this fake news incident, that myth has got shattered. Every ministry in this government has flexibility. The Prime Minister intervened in less than 24 hours after our I&B minister Smritiji (Irani) issued the notification. It was taken back. Similar to doping that cheats sports fans, fake news is a way of cheating your readers. Self-regulation is needed to have control over fake news.
As Assembly election will take place in Rajasthan by the year's end. Where does the BJP stand in the state, especially after losing the recent bypolls?
Just as a practice match is different from a real match, so is a bypoll different from a full election, whether for an Assembly or for the Lok Sabha. We got big success in the last Assembly election. Rajasthan chief minister Vasundharaji (Raje) is a visionary and a dynamic personality. Her government has introduced Bhamashah card, labour card, etc, got village roads cemented and there's a senior secondary school in every panchayat.
Over the last three-four months, a distinct change is visible on the ground about which either the chief minister or the BJP state president can tell better. Dialogues with electorates are in progress. People have realised that there's no alternative to Narendra Modi and the BJP. Rajasthan election's result will be in favour of the BJP. The party will change the scenario by infusing both energy and experience.
Finally, how challenging is politics for you, an individual who was a commissioned officer in Indian Army and an Olympic medallist?
Both as an army officer and as a sportsperson, I worked for the nation and for our tiranga (tricolour). It has inculcated in me a sense of teamwork and to take up any work as a mission. The political platform is very powerful and your work has an impact on lakhs of people. In four generations of our family, nobody had ever been in politics. It's only due to our Prime Minister that I'm here... because he talks about parallel induction of professionals in politics and civil services.
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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 11:45:45 IST