A few months ago, a video of a youngster from Madhya Pradesh and a Kambala buffalo race went viral on social media. Comparisons were made to Usain Bolt’s sprint timings. Corporate leaders, social media influencers and many other people in the country widely shared related videos while Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijuju announced that the athlete will get an opportunity to showcase his talent to the experts at the Sports Authority of India centres.
The Minister, however, received flak from sports lovers and experts over giving into social media hype without understanding the nuances of the sport.
Rijiju on Sunday defended himself on the topic during a webinar title Corona and Sports - The Champions Speak, organised by FICCI and said it was the lack of understanding about sports that has been the biggest problem in developing the sports culture in the country.
“There was an incident in Madhya Pradesh where one village boy was running. Somebody clicked a video and sent it to social media and passed a comment that he runs faster than Usain Bolt,” he said.
“Similar thing happened in Karnataka. Even some of the professional people, some renowned people in India started saying that now this guy will bring gold in 100m. Problem is lack of knowledge. What can I do. If I don’t respond, they will say sports minister is silent.
“Experts would be wondering what is this sports minister doing reacting to such amateur talks. But I have to. Because larger section of the audience, they do not know things. So I have to show them that ‘yes I am hands-on’ when it comes to Indian sports, I am there for the athlete. I will give all the opportunities to all the potential candidates. I have to show that,” the minister said.
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The 48-year-old also took on the criticism about the lack of government support for development of sports, saying India was probably the only country apart from the communist nations that directly support sportspersons.
Pointing out how cricket has been popular despite the Indian government not spending any money on its promotion or development, Rijiju said its the people who can develop the sports culture in the country by watching other sports in stadiums or on television so that more money comes into the sport.
“If India has to become a sporting powerhouse, we Indians must know sports. The country has to decide whether we want to make India a sporting nation or not. Government as a catalyst will do everything,” he added.
The sports minister was also critical of the absence of organised district and state level events to identify talent and announced plans for taking the Khelo India Games initiative to the grassroot level.
“National Games are not regular in India. State games are almost non-existent. Few states conduct very erratic type of games. We don’t have district games.
“It may not be possible this year. But we have plans to start state-level khelo India games and the Sports Ministry will provide funding for the same,” he said and urged FICCI to play an important role in getting corporate partners on board.
Answering a query on when the national camps will resume, Rijiju said he was keen on starting the camps at NIS Patiala and SAI Bengaluru from May 3 but the Epidemic Act which has been enforced in the country does not recognise sports as an essential service.
He, however, hoped that camps for Olympic-bound athletes should start by the end of the month.
“The camps will start in a phased manner. First we will start training at NIS Patiala and SAI, Bengaluru where athletes are based currently... by the end of this month training is expected to start in Bengaluru and Patiala.
“The camps will be for those sports which have qualified for Olympics or the sports whose Olympic qualification is in future. We will relax things partially looking at the Olympics,” he said, but added that there was no chance of competitions resuming till September this year.