NEW DELHI: After taking over as India’s Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports from Vijay Goel in September last year, 2004 Olympic silver medallist Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had vowed to help revamp the fabric of Indian sports with an emphasis on youth and results. A month later, the Sports Ministry announced the formation of the Khelo India School Games (KISG), an initiative which encourages mass participation and excellence in sports among youngsters, from which the brightest 1,000 athletes will receive scholarships worth Rs 5 lakh each per year for a period of eight years.
The first edition of the eight-day tournament held in New Delhi came to a close on Thursday, and on the side-lines of it Rathore spoke to Rajesh Kalra, Chief Editor of Times Internet Ltd, about the importance of KISG and what it means for the future of Indian sports.
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Tell us how this concept come about. How is this different from school games happening in the past?
The school games happening in the past never had the sort of audience which is there right now – both live audience and on television – plus the sort of ambience that was created around the sport itself, the quality of the referees, the apparatuses, the quality of the stadiums, everything was not in place where athletes would really aspire to be performing there. Why are they all performing? Why are they playing the sport? They’re all playing the sport because they want to be number one; they want to become heroes plus perhaps they have a dream of the Olympics or playing for India, playing for the tricolour, so we wanted to create an aspirational tournament where they are able to live their first dream, to be on the television, to be able to play in the best facilities and to become heroes. Once they do that, then they can take the next step to become international athletes.
How do you sustain this?
I’ll just draw your attention to the basic things: Number one, sports are a state subject, so the state is responsible for investing into the grassroots sports. Then come the federations that are responsible for developing and excelling the sport. The central government’s role is to support each one of them. This is a platform that we created for our young athletes to be able to compete at this level and then from hereon, young talent could be picked up. This is the league of the Under-17 – at this level, the best Under-17 tournament, which is very inspirational, very classy, something like what the Commonwealth Games or Asian Games would be.
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What kind of talent spotting is happening here in the games right now?
We have a host of Arjuna awardees and Dronacharya awardees of each of these events and they are judging the talent of these young people. There are three layers of selection committees. The first one would recommend, the second one would assess and the third one would then finalise a core group. The core group would then further go through various sessions to figure out the best ones amongst them.
Once you pick them up, how do you ensure that their coaching, sport science, everything is professional, which is something that had been lacking at the grassroots levels all this while?
We are identifying centres of excellence for them. A lot of them would be Sports Authority of India centres, some of them would be private academies, some of them would be where some of our Olympic athletes had opened academies. We would then fund these academies to train these young people. This is the first step. But then we are also in the process of identifying new academies, creating an environment where some of the Olympic athletes would like to open their own academies and we have the funds in Khelo India to fund and create infrastructure there.
We are also laying set standards. For example, when we used to play the School National Games, we used to go and live in school rooms, we would wash our clothes and hang them, we used to a get a scolding from the principal of that school. From that standard, we have taken them to three to four-star hotels. So we have written it in our Standing Operating Procedures that when Khelo India School Games will happen, they will have a residential facility of a three-star or a middle four-star hotel. Plus, they are kids. I personally have gone into noting on the kits, the size of the medal, the weight of the medal, the size of the ribbon. I have personally seen all of them and we have marked it out that this will be the basic standard. So broadly we have set the basic benchmark for every Khelo India School Games.
What are the next steps for Khelo India School Games? Will they remain confined to schools or will they get into sports missions as the Prime Minister has talked about a few times?
Our vision was that we connect the villages to the Olympic podium. Now how do we connect that? Even the villages in rural areas, there are schools, there are government schools and when a district team is made, every school participates in that and a District Education Officer picks up the team from best of the available talent within the district. So we have connected the schools to the district team. Then the district team prepares and competes within the state and a state team is prepared. They come to the Under-17 tournaments. From here, let’s suppose a few of them get selected in the top one thousand athletes, then they start getting groomed from there, then they go to the college. The next level of the tournament is Khelo India College Games.
When are they going to happen?
We will have them in about a year’s time from now.
Where are we with the Olympic Task Force recommendation implementation? How far do you think it is practically possible to implement them and how quickly?
A very high percentage of implementation is practical and we are already going ahead with implementing that. The Olympic Task Force has recommended that there should be an empowered steering committee, basically a board of people and under them would be professionals like a CEO or a high-performance manager for each of the verticals. Apart from setting up the empowered steering committee, and everything that the empowered steering committee would do, we have actually got that going by an ad hoc setup right now so that our 2020 Olympics don’t suffer.
You are an Olympic medallist yourself and now the Sports Minister of the country; nobody can have a better combination. How has that helped you in the ministry and what are the challenges that you face because you know the challenges inside out having been through them?
We have been through every stage, we struggled in our life. When we were playing, one of the basic things used to be that there is no money and you would run around with the files, so from every small thing to where sports science is required, where psychology is required, at what time you need to peak, what sort of budgets are required, one has a first-hand experience of that. I know most of the officers of Sports Authority of India so I feel super confident that this ministry has a reach to every citizen of this country in a very positive way and I believe that these officers are now on the path to delivering a sporting structure and a sporting environment which is going to be, I would say, absolutely phenomenal with great positivity and a great enthusiasm. They will deliver the best. They are very capable of doing it and we will do it.
Anything you want to add which you haven’t been asked which you think is important for everybody to know?
I think what is important is that this is the first games, we have delivered it in a very short while. Like I said in the beginning, one option was not to do it. But we said I am ready to have a 70 percent or a 60 percent success rate, but that 60 percent is 60 percent. The idea is to move without fearing failure and that’s exactly what we are doing. We will keep moving ahead, we will keep improving our organisational performance and every house, every school needs to put in an effort to improve their sporting performances. We have various programmes lined up. One of them is Sport for Women. The other is Talent Hunt which we are going to do, which will be for the age groups of 12-year-olds, which we’ll do very soon. We will also have a summit where we will invite all the manufacturers, in India and abroad, all the sports science people, all the people involved with education of sports to sit together and advice the government as to what policy measures are required to make India an export hub for sports goods.
We were very big once upon a time. Jalandhar and Meerut were big hubs for cricket bats, hockey sticks, cricket balls, hockey balls …
So we have sown the seeds right now. Source : timesofindia