Rathore: Khelo India to target big medals at 2024 & 2028 Olympics

Neelu Vyas

As Khelo India campaign draws to a close, union minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore speaks to Rajya Sabha TV in an exclusive interview.

Stating categorically that there is no dearth of funds for athletes, Rathore said that the seeds have been planted and the next big target was 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.

Explaining the twelve verticals of Khelo India, the first sports person to be the sports minister said that the campaign will make heroes out of the school children, will recognize the coaches and will even have space for women athletes separately.

Here are some edited excerpts from the interview:

Kheloge to hoge kharab?

Its kheloge to banoge lajawab. 2018 will be a year of sports. 2017 was a built up with Under-17 World Cup . Khelo India is all about expanding the base of the sporting pyramid.

What is Kehlo India campaign all about ?

PM Modi has taken a lead to provide a platform for younger people to become better human beings. Mr Modi , when he was the chief minister started Khel Mahakumbh. We parliamentarians are encouraging  people to play sports. Khelo India website is just one month old, 15 lakh people have already visited it. We have revamped sporting culture. We have 12 verticals. It provides aspirational platform to athletes. First the competition is at school level at under-17, then it is at college level its under-21, and beyond that we have a program for training the coaches. We also have a vertical for promoting sports among women. Creating infrastructure is another important aspect where we can tie up with the government and private partnerships to create a movement for training facilties and competition.

What about the grassroots level involvement? For example, how does a person in a rural part of the country become a part of Khelo India?

States are responsible for grassroots level participation. Then come the federations, which govern and take it to the level of excellence. Central government provides the support. If you see the medal tally of Khelo India school games then we can assess which state is doing the best. We can then find out which state is investing into sports. Creation of infrastructure is important. We will fund indigenous and rural sports like kho kho, kabaddi. Even the athletes need to be encouraged. We will provide them all facilities. Regional rural sports like Kerala boat race will be encouraged.

What about partnership with private schools?

We are going through the School Games Federation of India. Every school is affiliated to it. Every state will have a state team which will then compete in national championships. After the school games championships, we will take the top eight teams. Everybody is welcome. America has fabulous sports teams because they focus on college games. We, in India, have never thought beyond the annual sports day in a school. We have now created a platform at the highest level. We will make heroes of our school children. We might not have world class performance but four years from now on every child can dream big for sports.

Incorporating education with sports, will Khelo India give enough room to allow children to study?

Sports is an important part of development along with education. It’s important to blend sports with education for all-round development.

Who is going to monitor the quality of benchmarks that will be set?

We have 4500 athletes. Every year we honour Arjuna awardees. We have the best of Dronacharya and Arjuna awardees. These selection panels will look at the best talent and pick people. This will be a selection mechanism. Constant selection of who is doing the best will be picked up by these talented people. We will create a thorough database with every detail of the athlete and his or her performance. Every year we will add 1000 new athletes. This is historic and is a new direction in sports. It’s a systemic and organised move to broadbase sports. Prime objective is to let everyone play.

How do you plan to harness archery for instance?

At the level of school games, all games will be selected and equal attention will be paid. Kho-kho is not an olympic sport but we will pay attention to it. Target Olympic Podium programme will be for those who have the potential to win medal at the olympic

2018—are you looking at an improved tally at Asian Games and Commonwealth Games?

When you sow a seed it takes time to grow. Our main target is 2024 and 2028 Olympics. By this time these kids will become strong. Target olympic podium will help us win medals. We have 180 athletes, now they will have Rs 50,000 for their personal expenditure and miscellaneous expense because they are playing for the national flag till the time they are part of the target Olympic programme.

Its always been said that budget was a major problem for boosting sports? What about the budget this year?

Khelo India not only creates stadiums, but invests in kids, builds aspiration, takes care of coaches and sponsorships. Money has never been a problem. There is enough money. I can assure you that there is enough money. Each penny will be used for athletes. We have 520 crores for Khelo India which is good. We also have something like national sports development fund. This is the fund of the government of India. Anyonbe who puts money in this, the government is duty-bound to pitch in the same amount. All Olympic athletes will be trained by this fund.