It has been just over a year since Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was appointed India’s Sports Minister, replacing Vijay Goel who had managed to get himself embroiled in far too many controversies.
As a former sportsperson and Olympic medal winner, Rathore’s appointment last September was met with a lot of adulation and hope. Who better to fix Indian sports than a former sportsperson, after all? “Right man in the right place,” senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai had tweeted back then.
Fourteen months later, Rathore has managed to keep himself free of any major controversies but that hasn’t stopped him from making big headline-grabbing statements – some big enough to border on delusional.
Here is a collation of some of the most noteworthy statements made by Rathore in the last 14 months:
‘Medals at all levels’
In his first address to the nation after being appointed sports minister, Rathore said the focus will be on winning “medals at all levels – village level or at the Olympic level”.
“Sports is a state subject so we will work together with the state departments to provide best of the opportunities for the sportspersons,” Rathore told reporters.
“The most important thing is that the sportsman only has one challenge and that is to overcome adversaries, and enhance the level of their sports.
“Also the youth, not just in sports, but also in their personality development because that’s the essence of the youth ministry.”
‘Pathway from schools to Olympics’
Days into his appointment, Rathore walked the talk by announcing the revamp of the Khelo India initiative. The target was to have a fluid transition for young athletes to the big stage. Twenty universities across the country would be promoted as sporting centres, he said.
“A holistic approach has to be taken and there will be a seamless network which will enable a pathway from schools to Olympics,” Rathore said. “In the age group of 10 to 18, health and education will be mapped and schools will be graded. Sports facilities will also be mapped with geographical location. Sports and education will be mixed.”
‘India is a sleeping giant’
A month into his appointment, Rathore had called on India’s corporate sector to come forward and take the top five Sports Authority of India (SAI) stadiums of the capital under their wings.
“We need changes in everything,” he said. “The vision of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very clear – to develop a young and vibrant India. We need to create a sporting culture for our next generation. So I call upon the corporate sector to take over five big stadiums of the capital.”
He added, “India is a sleeping giant. Today it’s about just 5,000 athletes out of 100 crore people competing and winning one or two medals. But the day we wake up the world will realise our potential.”
In that same press conference, Rathore stated that there will be “a big change” in the way Indian sportspersons are treated.
“From now on it’s all about player-centric preparation. Sportsmen are most important. Players, fans and coaches are key and Indian Olympic Association (IOA), federations (NSFs) and sports ministry officials will be below them,” Rathore said.
“We need to bring down IOA, federations and sports ministry officials who used to call the shots earlier. Their responsibility will be to give the athletes the necessary help and platforms,” he added.
‘Sports can’t be run by bureaucrats’
In November last year, Rathore made a bold claim that his ministry would cut the strength of the Sports Authority of India by half by 2022. (He, of course, did not say anything about whether his government would still be in power till then.)
“We are going to cut strength of SAI by 50% by 2022,” Rathore said. “We don’t need so many people. Remaining people will be ably supported by professionals. All the sports bodies – SAI, National Sports Federations – have to step up in terms of delivery.
“Sports can’t be run by bureaucrats. Indian sports has suffered enough, but not anymore,” he added.
The following month, Rathore said that officials from the Sports Ministry would no longer be “treated as VIPs”.
‘100 Usain Bolts’
This statement probably takes the cake.
“I firmly believe that a country with 1.25 billion population has capability of producing 100 Usain Bolts,” Rathore had said in December last year.
Let’s just leave it at that.
P.S.: At that same event, Rathore also said his ministry has proposed the development of a phone app that will provide information about the nearest playground anywhere in India. The app would also have tips on how to play a game, the rules of the game, and information which was earlier only available only to the professionals.
‘CEOs and High Performance Managers’
Rathore was in a roll in December. He said his ministry is working on appointing CEOs and High Performance Managers for every sport.
“We will change the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme,” he said. “Every sport will now have CEOs and High Performance Managers. These managers will have to ensure that the players get better training for each sport and also which tournament they should take part in.”
Rathore also wanted transparency in all national sports federations.
“I want the funding that the federations receive displayed in detail on their websites,” he said. “Where they got the money and where they spent it.
“The names of the selected players should also be put on their websites. This transparency is very necessary because each citizen, media, taxpayer should know where their money is being spent by the federation.”
‘2018 is the year of sports in India’
Also in December last year, Rathore announced that his ministry will provide “complete funding” to Hockey India as they prepare for a treble in 2018 – the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup.
“From here on, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup are all Olympic preparatory tournaments besides being major competitions,” he said. “The ministry will give complete funding to Hockey India in terms of whatever they need. 2018 is the year of sports in India.”
However, as pointed out by The Field’s Abhijeet Kulkarni in this piece, hockey has always received funding from the government for major tournaments and exposure tours for the last five-six years. This would have continued with or without the minister’s grand announcement.
‘Don’t see India hosting big tournaments in near future’
This one belongs to the ‘sensible’ category among the many comments made by the Sports Minister.
Ahead of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s visit to India in April earlier this year, Rathore said that the country is unlikely to host any big tournaments in the immediate future.
He added that his ministry’s focus would be to build “small, practical play-fields” instead of “mammoth stadiums” that will be required to host an event like the Olympics.
“The bottom line for doing anything, taking such decisions [like hosting big-ticket events], the bottom line needs to be what good is that tournament going to be for our country?” he said.
“Is it going to be beneficial for us? And anything that comes our way, where we have to even consider hosting a big tournament, these are the essentials that we would answer. Right now we don’t foresee us hosting big tournaments in the immediate future.”
‘Heads will roll’
In April, after the Commonwealth Games, Rathore had said that he would not hesitate to sack his own officials if they delay the sanction of incentives for athletes, but also warned against false accusations.
“The officials in sports ministry and Sports Authority of India have been tasked to attend to your requirements and resolve your issues at the earliest,” Rathore said, addressing Indian athletes. “At any point in time if I hear that sportspersons are having issues in getting these incentives and funds there are few heads that will roll. But before you make any accusation, please be very sure that there was an error on our part and not on your part.”
‘India will start playing in Fifa World Cup very soon’
Another gem from Rathore.
While the Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri pleaded with his countrymen to come watch his team play, Rathore said in June that India has the potential to play in the Fifa World Cup in near future.
“Football’s popularity is rising in India,” he said. “The number of people who turned up to watch Fifa U-17 World Cup [in India] was same as IPL matches. India hasn’t played in Fifa World Cup but we have potential. If potential is linked to opportunities, India will start playing in Fifa World Cup very soon. Be it football, or any other sports, India has tremendous potential.”
‘Sports Authority of India to become Sports India’
“The word authority is being removed. It will be known as Sports India now,” Rathore said after a meeting with SAI officials. However, a press release from SAI after the meeting had no mention of the change in name being approved. It is still called Sports Authority of India, officially, to date.
‘Act with responsibility’ at Asiad
Another statement from Rathore that was probably needed at the time.
Before the Indian contingent departed to Indonesia for the Asian Games in August, Rathore asked them all to behave responsibly.
“It is a matter of great pride you are representing the country in the Games and you have earned this privilege,” he said at the send-off ceremony. “When you take part in the Games and when you stay in the Games Village, you will lose your individual identity and your identity there is just one name that is ‘India.’
“It is a big responsibility for you. Whatever you do on the field and off the field, please remember one thing that you are representing a billion strong nation. You have to act with responsibility. Whether it is the athletes or officials, everybody should remember this all the time.”
‘India will be among the top medal winners at 2028 Olympics’
And, finally, we come to Rathore’s latest big headline-grabbing statement.
“I have tremendous hope and belief in the Indian youth and their ability to dominate the world,” he said on Tuesday. “We have begun the process. The wheels are turning.
“The 2020 Olympics is very close. We will do our level best there. We will exactly know even before entering the playing arena, how many medals we will win.
“My target is Olympics of 2024 and 2028. The way we are progressing now, India would be among the top medal winners at the 2028 Olympics.”
Make of all that what you will.
For now, as a reward for making it this far, we will leave you with this video:
Has Rathore’s time as the Sports minister lived up to your expectations? Email your thoughts to email@example.com or share your thoughts @thefield_in on Twitter.