Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore says the Modi govt is among the most committed towards sports, explains why he doesn’t foresee India hosting big events soon, underlines the need for transparency in federations, and says making doping a criminal offence is ‘debatable’
RAJYAVARDHAN SINGH RATHORE: Sports, as I see it and as the government sees it, is essential to education. It is no longer just a co-curricular activity. It is central to being a citizen of the country. For us sports is vital, the fans are vital, and the athletes and coaches are vital. The bureaucracy, the sports federations, the administration, they are all taking a backseat now to serve these goals and people. My priority is to ensure that the base of the sports pyramid in the country is wide and strong. To this effect, we have launched ‘Khelo India’ (a national sports development programme), which has a 360-degree approach. We also have the ‘Target Olympic Podium’ scheme. We have taken away the red tape, the bureaucracy and increased interaction with athletes. Under the programme, we take care of the athletes’ training, diet and all the other expenses. We give them an allowance of `50,000 per month. We started it in September 2017 and it will continue right up to the Olympics (2020). In terms of infrastructure, it is not the big mammoth stadiums that we are interested in. We will invest in practical solutions at smaller levels. This will involve going beyond government institutions and partnering with private organisations. For the first time, we have a Prime Minister who is completely involved in sports. He has repeatedly spoken on various platforms about the importance of sports in enhancing values in a child. When he went to Australia he met our cricketers there. Very recently, he saw the FIFA U-17 game, and when the King of Bhutan was visiting our country, the PM gifted his child a football. So, repeatedly, the PM has spoken and demonstrated his love for sports. And, of course, he has suggestions for improving sports governance. He has given us his entire support.
MIHIR VASAVDA: Politicians have long ruled sports federations. How do they look at a sportsperson entering their domain?
The only important thing is how I look at sports; how I look at federations… I will work towards ensuring transparency, participation from athletes, good sports governance, and efficiency and professionalism in sports federations.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: In the US, most of the federations fund themselves. Do you think India can have such a model? Over the years, a lot of the funds given to the federations have been misused.
We want to ensure that every penny that is given to the federations is accounted for, and the expenditure is shown on the federation’s website. I think federations need support, but the time has also come for them to open up about governance. Also, they have to start generating revenue for themselves — open themselves up to sponsorships and then also show where exactly the money is being spent. Both the things are possible and both the things are necessary. Some federations have their own leagues and are successfully supporting their athletes. They are also successfully running the federation with the money generated through these leagues. Such a system also helps sportspersons in staying dedicated. As I see it, sports now is like engineering or medicine, it’s a full-time job, and players also have a shorter lifespan. We need the support of the government to go through this transition period, and then, maybe, in the future, the federations can be completely self-reliant.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: What’s your take on hosting big events? The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is keen to host a major multi-discipline event.
What we need to ask ourselves is, ‘Is the event going to be beneficial for the country?’ We need to answer this essential question. I don’t foresee us hosting big tournaments in the immediate future. What is important is that instead of mammoth stadiums, I would rather have small practical playing fields available to a larger section of the public. The sports ministry’s role is to support state governments and federations. The intention is to become catalysts for state governments and sports bodies, so that they reach a certain level. We have a purely supporting role.
MIHIR VASAVDA: Is the bureaucracy still scarred by the Commonwealth Games scam?
I don’t know if I would call it scarring but we need to always be aware of the facts, irrespective of how many years have passed since the CWG scam. Having said that, when your intentions are right, there should not be any fear in thinking out of the box and doing new things that will benefit people. The way we executed the Khelo India School Games is just one of the examples of this. It was done in a very short time, and we could have easily walked away saying we will hold it next year as time is short. But hundreds of children would have missed a chance. Things that are important need to be executed.
COOMI KAPOOR: Why have some of the smaller states been more successful in grooming sportspersons?
There are several reasons for it — culture, legacy and opportunity. States in the Northeast, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Goa, Haryana have a certain culture, which gives a certain impetus to get into a particular sport. Hyderabad didn’t have a shooting range but got one after an Afro-Asian tournament was held there. Gagan Narang, the Olympic medalist, hails from there. Maharashtra has several shooters because of a legacy. Footballers from the Northeast have amazing coordination. Eight footballers in the FIFA U-17 team were from Manipur. Haryana has resources, opportunities and has also invested a lot in sports. They were the champions of Khelo India. So, a range of factors help a state in becoming successful in sports.
RAKESH SINHA: Would it help if there were more sportspersons in Parliament?
Sportsmen are forced to face challenges on a regular basis and so it creates a warrior spirit within them. What is vital is that the younger generation, each one of them, participates in sports, which then will teach them the values of sacrifice, team spirit etc. Also, all elite sportsmen need to dedicate some time to developing skills that will help them pick up an alternate career. This will take care of their finances. For me, it is not just about being a minister; I also represent athletes. There have been numerous occasions where administrators have not allowed sportsmen to administer arguing that they are not adequately equipped. So, ensuring that sportsmen can in fact do the job is both a commitment and a challenge for me.
NIHAL KOSHIE: Twelve athletes who participated in the inaugural Khelo India School Games tested positive for banned substances. How do you intend to deal with the doping menace at the junior level?
Winning at any cost is certainly not acceptable, and it is not our goal. The government funds sportspersons in order to create positive role models for the younger generation. We are not funding them to win at any cost. Their entire career is financed through taxpayers’ money, or through donations, and so they have a responsibility. We are conducting awareness campaigns, pointing out that doping is not just unacceptable in sports but it is extremely injurious to life. Also, catching guilty sportsmen through tests will put an end to such shortcuts in the future. One of the major battles behind the scenes in Khelo India was to get state federations and state governments on the same platform. Look at the irony. It is the states that make laws for sports but they have never interacted with their federations. Such has been the alienation, such has been the reluctance… The two need to come together to ensure good governance at the grassroots level.
NIHAL KOSHIE: Awareness campaigns have also been there. The National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) has been bringing out pamphlets etc. But at the junior level, it is mostly the coaches who initiate doping in athletes. How do you tackle that? Also, there was talk of making doping a criminal offence. Has there been any progress?
It is under consideration at the moment. It is a debatable subject. Should you put somebody in jail for doping? That is the big question. But the coaches are not going scot-free. If after an investigation it is found that a coach is complicit, then obviously the sportsperson along with the coach gets penalised, and they may never be able to play for India again.
TUSHAR BHADURI: Tension has been simmering between the IOA and the sports ministry for some time now. The IOA president had slammed the sports ministry for raising ‘unnecessary issues’ about the CWG contingent. How is the relationship now?
My relationship with the IOA is fantastic, couldn’t be better. I have known all of them for years as a sportsperson.
TUSHAR BHADURI: What about the objections to the CWG contingent? Also, the IOA had reservations about the Khelo India programme?
Nothing beyond comments.
GAURAB DASGUPTA: Making it big in any sport in India has been a challenge, whether it is facing bureaucratic hurdles or biases in selection. How can this be resolved?
Selections are entirely left to federations. Firstly, there should be an objective selection policy. Secondly, we are working with the IOA and the federations to create an International Olympic Committee, which will be the standard-bearer. The ministry and the IOA together will ensure that every federation follows the norms. But eventually it boils down to the integrity of the person holding the post. Unfortunately, rules have limitations and they cannot enhance the integrity of an individual. That is true for any organisation.
GAURAB DASGUPTA: How do you plan to take Khelo India forward?
Before we planned Khelo India, there were a lot of naysayers who believed that our vision would not see the light of day. But, fortunately, now people believe in it. There is no shortage of funds and we will continue with the programme in the same way. We will also work on some other verticals. The first one is to prepare community coaches, right down to the grass-roots level — they will be educated, trained etc. We also need to create structures through which they can educate themselves, and then get a job and earn through coaching. Secondly, we are going to focus on bringing more women to sports. This is more of a behavioural change. We are also going to create a mobile application. It will be based on ‘where to play and how to play’. The app will tell you about the playground closest to your location and also provide the contact number for it. In the first phase we will enlist all sports fields which belong to the Government of India, the state governments and PSUs. Later, we will encourage people to upload their own data (on playgrounds) on the app. We are also planning to put up ‘how to play’ videos. In the second phase of the app, we will upload tips on how to serve, how to smash etc.
MIHIR VASAVDA: What do you make of the idea of laser shooting? They might replace guns in the sport.
I do understand that moving around the world with guns in flights is a little difficult now. Terrorism is making all of us averse to guns, even those that are used in sports. I have never used a laser gun actually so I don’t know.
RAVISH TIWARI: Most MPs and MLAs from Rajasthan say that there is more anti-incumbency against the leadership than the party. Do you think there is going to be a shake-up before the Assembly elections?
In a family, if you speak to a young teenager, he will have the most grudges against his mother. But, they are one family and will work on things together. There are a number of things that have been done in Rajasthan which are absolutely unique to the state, and are great examples of good governance. It is now time to take the message to the public and it will happen soon.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Incidents of violence in the past year, including the killing of Mohammad Afrazul, have polarised the electorate in Rajasthan. Would you agree?
While the information (about such cases) provided by the print media is the most authentic, there are several others — television, web — which need to act fast, and so do not have the time to go through a story in detail and ascertain the facts. It could be because of competition. Then there is social media. It is on a different level. All kinds of stories — true, false, old — come up on it. Rajasthan is not polarised. In fact, Rajasthan is one of the more calm states. The people are generally very polite. But any such act, wherever it happens, is not acceptable.
COOMI KAPOOR: The I&B ministry is gaining the reputation of being very antagonistic to the media.
I would refrain from answering this question. Although I am an MoS in the ministry, the minister has a vision and she is working on certain things.
SANDEEP DWIVEDI: When you became minister, the entire sporting community had huge expectations from you. Does it make your job difficult? Are there unrealistic demands sometimes?
The decisions that I take have to be purely in the interest of the country. It has to have specific logic. And if there is logic, I have no problems in spending on anyone. We cannot be penny wise and pound foolish. Money and resources will be used for the ultimate goal of creating a positive sporting culture in the country and positive sports icons. There is a great amount of responsibility on athletes to be positive role models.