Except for cricket, there is hardly a sport where the top performers enjoy a sweeping appeal across the nation. Every now and then, a Sushil Kumar or a Mary Kom wins an Olympic medal or a Sania Mirza wins a Grand Slam doubles, and receives heady adulation, but it is not long before he/she is sent politely back to the B-list by the fickle masses. In this backdrop, you would think the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) would at least pick a somewhat well-known name in Indian sports as its goodwill ambassador at the upcoming Rio Olympics, given it intends to broad base the appeal of Olympic sports in the country. But IOA instead chose one of the most controversial Bollywood stars—Salman Khan.
Khan has precisely two tenuous connections to Indian sports—he owns the Pune franchise of the Indian Super League football (though an Olympic sport, India has been represented just four times) and he is playing a fictional Olympian wrestler in an upcoming movie. Films and some charity endeavours aside, he is recalled most for real-life conduct that is far from sportsman-like. In the 2002 hit-and-run case, though he was let off by the Bombay High Court, the Maharashtra government has appealed his acquittal at the Supreme Court. Khan has also been convicted of poaching—a verdict he has appealed at the Rajasthan High Court. What is jarring is that the IOA announced Khan as its Goodwill Ambassador at an event attended by women’s boxing champion Mary Kom, India’s hockey captain Sardar Singh and shooting ace Abhinav Bindra. While the selection has the sporting world divided—Bindra, Kom and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar have supported it, runner Milkha Singh and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt have strongly criticised it—the IOA would have done much better to select someone from the sporting world who deserves to be better known. Or, at the very least, not sent out the signal that star-status out-values rectitude.