Deserving Pick Kiren Rijiju Can Help Make India a Sporting Nation
File picture of India’s new Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju.
File picture of India’s new Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju.(Photo: Facebook)

Deserving Pick Kiren Rijiju Can Help Make India a Sporting Nation

A few eyebrows have been raised at Col Rajyavardhan Rathore’s non-inclusion in the Union Cabinet this time around, but the Olympic Games double trap shooting silver-medal winner will be among the first to acknowledge that his friend Kiren Rijiju would be a very good successor in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

They have shared a great friendship, egging one another on in their individual fitness journeys and walking the talk. Surely, Rijiju, who has enthusiastically celebrated Indian athletes’ success in the past few years, will respond to the greater responsibility placed on his shoulders now as Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affairs and Sports.

Rajnath Singh and  Kiren Rijiju during a send-off ceremony for Indian athletes before the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Rajnath Singh and Kiren Rijiju during a send-off ceremony for Indian athletes before the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
(Photo: PTI)

Rijiju has answered questions in Parliament before on behalf of the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports; and he has not hesitated in joining the fitness challenge spree sparked by Col Rathore on Twitter in May last year. But he has been an athletic man, playing football and track and field in the prime of his youth and continuing to play diverse sport even today.

The challenges before the 47-year-old from Arunachal Pradesh are two-fold: The immediate task will be to assess and bolster India’s preparations for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. 

The long-term plan to make India a sporting country – far-removed from being merely a sports-watching nation – remains a fairly distant dream, one that does not have easy solutions.

He takes over at a time when a number of National Sports Federations – Equestrian Federation of India, Gymnastics Federation of India, Archery Association of India, Taekwondo Federation of India and the Indian Golf Union, to name some major ones – are rife with governance issues. How he navigates such a scenario will make for interesting watching.

As someone whose name did the rounds as the likely President of the Archery Association of India before the Delhi High Court-appointed administrator Dr SY Quraishi exceeded his brief and amended the Constitution, Rijiju has first-hand knowledge of the machinations in the world of sports administration.

India’s current and former Sports Ministers – Kiren Rijiju and Col Rathore.
India’s current and former Sports Ministers – Kiren Rijiju and Col Rathore.
(Photo: IANS)

There is no doubt that in the past few years, India has embraced sport with sharp focus on Olympic disciplines like shooting, badminton, athletics, boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. But it is also clear that much more needs to be done if India wants to figure higher in the medals tally in the Olympic Games.

The National Sports Development Code 2017 has to move from being a draft to implementation after consultation with the stakeholders.

For long, it was lying in a sealed envelope with the Delhi High Court. But with the NDSCI 2011 – actually a compilation of a series of notifications from 1975 – becoming archaic, the 2017 Code really needs to see the light of the day.

Some crucial legislation needs Rijiju’s attention. The establishment of a National Sports Tribunal to resolve disputes in Indian sport and a bill to prevent corruption in sport, especially match-fixing, are crying needs of the hour. He could be the minister to pilot these important Bills to ensure that sporting disputes are resolved, quickly and amicably, and to prevent corruption in sport.

The minister, who has studied law, will also have to streamline the functioning of the National Anti-Doping Agency and National Dope Testing Laboratory, both of which have come in for criticism in the recent months. With more than 100 dope positives reported last year, India’ war against doping in sport needs more intensity before it is won.

Kiren Rijiju facilitates Indian women’s kabaddi team that clinched silver a medal at the 18th Asian Games; in New Delhi, on Sept 4, 2018.
Kiren Rijiju facilitates Indian women’s kabaddi team that clinched silver a medal at the 18th Asian Games; in New Delhi, on Sept 4, 2018.
(Photo: IANS)

There has also been a marked reluctance to punish the perpetrators of age-fraud, easily one of Indian sport’s biggest scourges. Rijiju can ensure that the Sports Authority of India publishes a list of athletes who were found to be over-aged in the Khelo India School Games 2018 and Khelo India Youth Games 2019. That will encourage many National Sports Federations to do likewise.

Many age-cheats manage to secure jobs on the basis of their performance in the National age-group competitions. Most of these do not go on to pursue sport at the higher level, content with having gained employment and ensuring a steady income. A few exemplary punishments can discourage many potential cheats.

Sooner than later, the new minister will have to regulate the mushroom growth of leagues across sport with particular focus on the nature of investment being brought in.

At some levels, the Ministry will have to rein in leagues more than National Sports Federations. It will have to be seen what steps he takes to ensure a balance between professional leagues and playing for India.

Since he is not averse to speaking his heart out – and he is no stranger to controversy – the new Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sport can be expected to be quite vocal about his expectations from the country’s athletes, their administrators and his own bureaucrats. In many ways, his tenure will not see a significant departure in approach to matters sport.

Rijiju will be aware of the popular perception, especially among athletes and sports fans, that Col Rathore sought to make things easier for the elite athlete with his clarion call for ‘Samman aur Suvidha’ (Respect and Convenience). It would be the easiest of tasks for him to ensure that he wins the confidence of the elite athletes while ensuring that they do not misuse such faith in them.

Those who know Rijiju will believe that he can deal with the challenges with a calm, tenacious, understanding approach that will endear himself to the elite athletes of the nation. As someone who has not hesitated in getting on the saddle of a mountain terrain bike and biking through the wilderness, he can make his presence felt in the world of Indian sport at an exciting time.

(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years.)

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