Is Col Rathore’s ‘Khelo India’ Plan What Indian Sports Needs?
Why isn't a sportsperson part of the decision-making process in Indian sports? Why not have someone who knows how the system works, be in-charge? Those were the questions asked by every Indian sports fan for over a decade.
In September 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reshuffled his Cabinet and ensured that the concern was answered. 2004 Olympic Silver medallist Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was made the sports minister.
Col Rathore is spearheading a movement in Indian sports called ‘Khelo India’. The Quint’s Mendra Dorjey caught up with the Olympian and got him to share some of the details.
India’s first individual Olympic silver-medallist at the Olympic Games in 2004, and now in 2017 you have become the first Indian sportsperson to be appointed as the Sports Minister. Just over three months in office, how has the homecoming been?
When you get a responsibility, it is always a great honour. I have been there in this sector, so I do understand a little bit more, and I think the prime minister has a huge strategy for the whole country, for the youth. I am just part of that strategy.
On the day you came to this office for the first time, you said ‘the VIP culture is back in the sports ministry’ but the VIP is the athlete and no one else. Do you firmly believe in that?
Everything needs to revolve around the sportsman and the sport. We have stated that the three most important people now are the sportsmen, the coach and the fans. That’s what sports is all about. The priority has to shift from the federations, the sports bodies and ministry officials to these people. We will achieve it.
The ‘Khelo India’ movement is set to launch in a big way this January. Can you tell us something more about it?
I am quite excited about ‘Khelo India’ because I have risen from the grassroots. I understand how this scheme is a lot different from many others. The idea is to pump in money on the soft infrastructure, by creating platforms at various levels for our youth to participate and excel in. You know when people say that India has 1.25 billion people and we still don’t win Olympic medals, I always say that ‘I wish the opportunities were available to 1.25 billion people. If they were, then Australia and UK and America better watch out.’
You have plans to put the athlete first but how do you plan to execute that? Is there a big budget allocation that has been made to implement the changes?
One hundred and fifty schools over the next three years will be converted into sports schools with an investment of Rs 1,000 crore. I am also glad to say that the first sponsorship the athletes are going to get will be from the Government of India. Thousand athletes in this year will be getting Rs 5 lakh every year for the next 8 years. So imagine a student who is 12 years old and if we start supporting him at that point of time with Rs 5 lakh – if he has that talent – and then support him till he is 20 years of age. We expect by then he will be picked up by the junior Indian team and will get his own sponsors. Or that he will be part of the senior Indian team and he will have a separate funding. We are filling that gap which existed between a natural young talent and a person who is excelling.
You plan to put money into the grassroots of Indian sports. Would that then take money away from the funds of the elite athletes who are training for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games?
One of the good things I learned after coming to the sports ministry – because most of the times as a sportsperson we were told that there is no money – however there is no dearth of money. The only thing is, you have to use it properly. Every penny has to be accounted for and used for its maximum value.
(This video has been republished from The Quint’s archives for sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s 48th birthday. This video was originally published on 7 December 2017.)