The sight of our Prime Minister offering Neeraj Chopra Churma, PV Sindhu offering ice cream, laughing with Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya said to laugh more and the Mirabai Chanu experience brought a smile to every Indian’s face. Equally encouraging was that he spent time with every athlete who competed in the Tokyo Olympics. The next day he interacted with the Paralympic contingent and discussed their inspiring life paths.
These gestures show another side of Narendra Modi – a person who is passionate about sports and ready to go the extra mile for India’s athletes. Prior to the start of the Tokyo Games, PM Modi held an extensive review meeting to take stock of our preparations.
Those who have seen PM Modi up close can attest to his passion for promoting a sports and play culture among youth. As the CM of Gujarat, he started the Khel Mahakumbh initiative, which encouraged participation in popular sports in a state historically not known for athletic excellence. There is also a method of how he supports sports and athletes, which would lead me to argue that he is India’s first and foremost “athletes prime minister”.
A video from 2013 went viral a few days ago. In this video, Modi reached out to a group of college students in Pune, complaining that India has a large and talented population and a history of athletic excellence, but we struggled to keep our medal count at the post-Olympics Olympics raise. He said there was no reason why a nation like ours should be denied Olympic success. But in his opinion it wasn’t about the players, it was about our inability to create the right atmosphere. The women’s and men’s hockey teams have stated that the Prime Minister’s phone calls after their defeats played a key role in boosting their morale. When Neeraj Chopra sustained an injury in 2019, PM Modi wished him a speedy recovery, which was widely recognized.
When it comes to sport, the Prime Minister understands the root of the problem – that sport generates a lot of interest, but when it comes to incentives and participation, there is a huge void. There was both fact and optimism when he remarked after meeting the Olympic champions, “Given the recent successes in sport, I am confident that parents’ attitudes towards sport will change.” When parents see medals rising in India, it is hoped that they will be more open to their children playing sports. But more importantly, when you see all armies of government and the corporate sector supporting our players, you will see that sport can make an attractive and honorable career.
Among other things, we can increase India’s sporting success by encouraging our states to adopt a “One State, One Sport” perspective: they can prioritize a game or promote some (without ignoring others) based on the talent pool available, natural interest, climatic conditions and available infrastructure. This leads to a focused approach, but also enables optimal use of the available resources in the country.
In addition, we have to go on board in India to take over “One Sport, One Corporate”. All over the world, companies are at the forefront when it comes to supporting emerging talent, building leagues, improving the fan experience, marketing and merchandising to improve player finances. The success of companies in cricket over the years is a case in point. In addition, the sponsorship pattern has changed from FMCG brands to new FinTech unicorns. This can be a win-win for players, companies, and the game itself.
Another important aspect is building a popular sports culture. To do this, it is imperative to expand the calendar for various games at the local, state and federal level. India needs regional leagues in every sport that provide opportunities for young athletes to hone their skills at various levels throughout the year and improve the country’s sports ecosystem and infrastructure. I also believe that our higher education system can be turned into an oasis of Olympic excellence.
These actions will bridge the gap between interest and participation in the future.
One of the things that has helped Indian sport is the emphasis on quality and global standards. The conventional way was bureaucratic and arduous; This has changed in the Modi government, where even the Prime Minister prefers to get feedback directly from the players. During his meeting with the Tokyo 2020 contingent, he asked them to share their views on ways to strengthen sports infrastructure. Whether Mirabai or Mary Kom, the Prime Minister personally made sure that they received the best treatment for their injuries.
Another problem affecting Indian sport is (ironically) the rise of modern technology. PM Modi has addressed this in his book Exam Warriors and in Pariksha Pe Charcha Townhall programs. He talked about giving as much importance to the playing field as to the Playstation. Modi hasn’t dismissed the advent of modern technology. He was looking for a healthy balance in which the human element of sport – teamwork, togetherness – is preserved. In addition, the national educational policy also includes mechanisms that make physical education an attractive option. In the coming years, Manipur will get India’s first sports university, which will be a blessing for athletes and capitalize on the rich sports heritage in the northeast.
Tokyo 2020 was an Olympics with many firsts for India. We won our first gold in athletics, the hockey team did wonders and there were successes in other sports like discus, golf, fencing etc. The Target Olympic Podium Scheme, Khelo India and the Fit India Campaign laid the foundation for more success . New India is on fire. Our athletes have the full support of the government and the Prime Minister in their pursuit of athletic excellence.
The author is Union Minister for I&B and Youth Affairs & Sport