Never ever has any Indian Prime Minister demonstrated such a passion and connect with the Olympians in our sporting history as PM Narendra Modi has. Regardless of the results, the way the PM took a personal interest in consoling and encouraging all the athletes in Tokyo was heartening to see and was unprecedented. A few may argue that it was good for optics, but as someone who has followed Indian sports over the last two decades, PM’s gesture would surely have been a big boost for India’s Tokyo Olympics contingent. Not just for the athletes, but for those involved in various capacities in the development of Sports in India. However, led by Neeraj Chopra’s historic gold and six other Indian athletes’ podium finishes, Tokyo 2020 may have become India’s best-ever Olympics, but it is equally imperative to carry forward this momentum and build on the success. And, mostly as an extension and inspired by the PM, here are ‘seven golden’ ideas that can have a far-reaching impact on building a sporting culture in India and may, someday, bring home not just seven medals, but seven gold medals and more.
Flag hoisting ceremony with medal winners from Red Fort!
The mere thought gives me goosebumps! Just imagine that PM Modi invites all the athletes on 15th August commemorating the nation’s freedom from British rule, on the occasion of 75th Independence Day. He has already invited them to Delhi to personally meet and greet sessions, but that would be just following the old tradition. One can always argue and may shrug it off saying that there are protocol issues, but this is precisely what PM Modi does. He just defies conventions and when PM hoists the Tricolour from the Red Fort, he will have the company of all the athletes with their medals. We can have a special ceremony, a guard of honour by the armed forces to the athletes as well besides the PM. A powerful speech from PM on the importance of sports along with unfurling of the national flag, firing of the 21-gun salute, and the singing of the national anthem can make this Independence Day celebration a historic one and mind-boggling visual display. India can proudly tell the world that this is how New India is saluting its winners.
Now is the time for a Khel ki Baat
Borrowing from the original idea of PM’s famous programme Mann ki Baat, I urge him to start a similar program Khel ki Baat. The only change I wish to see is to have an iconic sportsperson, speaking to India’s youth the same way PM Modi does on all the important issues every month. It will go a long way in inspiring millions of Neeraj Chopras and Mirabai Chanus in the making. The date of every month can be chosen from the birth anniversary of great athletes. It will not only keep the glory of these athletes alive for the younger generations but will also give the athletes the respect they deserve.
Open bus parade for all the athletes
This has never happened for athletes who are not cricketers. Just imagine the feelings of all the winners who get an ovation in an open bus parade like the 2007 T20 world cup winning team got in Mumbai. I was witness to that event on a rainy day in Mumbai and the overwhelming outpouring of love and emotion made all the cricketers cry and many of them still consider that experience as their finest moments in life. Old-timers recall that even Ajit Wadekar’s 1971 Test side also got a memorable ovation when they won a Test series in West Indies and England for the first time. The 1983 World Cup-winning team led by Kapil Dev was also felicitated at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium itself. The Champions had made a lap of the stadium during the function over 38 years ago. Yes, in these Covid times, an open bus parade may be difficult, but at least major stadiums across India can do the same in the next 12 months or so.
Introduce sports as a subject
If we want to bring the cultural change in our mindset and psyche as far as sports is concerned, perhaps there is no better way than to introduce sports as a ‘serious subject’ in the school curriculum. What is the harm in knowing about the rules of the various sports from the beginning, the history of the sports, and inspirational tales of our great sports persons? So far sports literature and love for sports beyond the field were always seen as hobbies and not a serious pursuit. Just think about a kid of the new India learning as much about sports as he or she is likely to know about social science or any other subject in school.
Compulsory sports bulletins in TV channels
This may not sound like an extraordinary idea but its worth shouldn’t be underestimated. Having been part of some of the top news channels of India, I have seen what a regular news bulletin can do in raising the awareness and profile of sports in country. More often than not, news TV gets a lot of criticisms for its TRP-driven mindset but at the same time, it can’t be ignored or forgotten that it has played a significant role in cricket becoming such a fanatic religion in this country. Over the last few years, most channels have either closed the sports desk or have nominal presentation just to fill in for a big day in sports. Just imagine if there is a dedicated half an hour show in 24-hour news cycle in our national as well as regional channels. The least it can do is to offer a soothing break from the cacophony of breaking news and many meaningless discussions across the channels.
Live broadcast of non-cricket games in schools and colleges
We all know about each and every player and teams in the IPL, let alone the national cricket team and it’s largely due to the non-stop coverage of cricket on sports channels. If a fortnightly coverage of all sports in Tokyo can bring so much passion and love, why can’t we follow the athletes when they are participating in different tournaments across the globe throughout the year? If it is made mandatory to let students get in on some sports action, it can go a long way in developing a sustainable sports eco-system in the country.
Institutionalize an iconic yearly award in every sport
Last but not the least, here is one more suggestion which is again the extension of what PM has already initiated this week. Rechristening India’s highest sporting award in the name of Major Dhyan Chand is a great move, even if a belated one. However, we should not just stop there; instead we should have one major iconic yearly award for each sport in the name of its greatest icon. How about a PT Usha award for the best female sprinter, best male sprinter award in the name of Milkha Singh, best female high jumper in the name of Anju Bobby George, best male badminton player in the name of Prakash Padukone, best female badminton player in the name of PV Sindhu, the best Javelin thrower award in the name of Neeraj Chopra? This is the kind of incentive any sportsman is likely to cherish more than just few euphoric felicitations after their greatest moments in their career.
Over to you, Mr. Prime Minister!