The only Prime Minister who showed an apparent interest in Indian sports before Narendra Modi was Rajiv Gandhi. It was to Gandhis credit that the 1982 Asian Games could be organised out without any real hassles as Indira Gandhi had entrusted the job of overseeing work on infrastructure to him. It was he who, in principle, also agreed to India hosting the Commonwealth Games.
Left to two other Prime Ministers, Morarji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh, the funding for the Asian Games would have been too tight-fisted. The latter thought the money earmarked for the Games could have been better spent on rural reconstruction and wanted the Games to be conducted on a shoe-string budget, without wasting money on so many new fly-overs to ease the traffic congestions in the national capital. After the Games, the fly-overs were more in use than the stadiums which turned out to be white elephants.
Modi’s Mann ki Baat on Sunday touched upon almost all key performances and performers. He must have instructed his speechwriter to cover all aspects of the Games.
Importantly, he pointed out that some of the athletes “could not even touch during the Games their own performance level which they had achieved during the domestic events”.
The Prime Minister sounded serious about the roadmap for the next three Olympic Games by calling upon all the stakeholders to provide inputs to him personally and to the task force he is going to create for the purpose.
This is another first for an Indian Prime Minister and his offhand suggestion to states to adopt one or two sports can easily be taken up. With the kind of interest he is taking, the Olympic road map can work well and Indian sports persons can really hope for ache din.
The never-ending debate over foreign and Indian coaches should end with Prime Minister saluting Pullela Gopichand as a “great teacher” and his dedication in becoming a role model, though he did not mention about overseas coaches.
Modi profusely hailed woman power in Indian sport and congratulated badminton silver medallist Pusarla Venkata Sindhu and bronze-winning wrestler Sakshi Malik.
He did not forget to compliment all those who have performed well even if they did not get the medal and named Abhinav Bndra, Dipa Kamakar, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna and Lalita Babar, specifically mentioning about the Indian athlete who entered the Olympic final after P.T. Usha 32 years ago. And that the men’s hockey team entered the knockout round after 36 years just as the women’s team returned to the Games after the 1980 Moscow Olympics!
He talked of boxer Vikas Krishna Yadav missing the bronze and the performances of golfer Aditi Ashok, rower Dattu Bhokanal and archer Atanu Das. They all must have felt good and encouraged with the Prime Minister remembering them so fondly and referring to their good deeds, just as Sindhu was thrilled to meet him.
Sindhu need not have worried going to meet the Prime Minister in a skirt as she was driven straight there from the airport, though she wanted to change into a formal attire like a sari or a salwar kameez, perhaps.
“Just wish I had time to change as I was being rushed from the airport,” said her post on social media talking about her incredible experience meeting Modi.
For once the conscience keepers of the country and the moral police brigades took it in the right spirit, most tweets playing down her dress, ignoring the advisory of the union culture minister for foreigners to avoid wearing skirts.
All good things must be followed by a needless controversy and so the polite query as to who raised money for the BMWs presented to Sindhu, Sakshi, Dipa and Gopichand was a former Andhra cricket captain, secretary of the state cricket association and now an official of the state badminton association.
When the person made the announcement soon after the Games, he said he was going to collect money from industrialists. Sachin Tendulkar’s presence at the handing over ceremony of the car keys was incidental.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])