Rajyavardhan Rathore: 'U-21 athletes to be included in Khelo India by 2019'

India is sending a 800-plus contingent, including 572 athletes, to the Asian Games, to be held from August 18 to September 2 in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang.

Indian contingents for the Asian Games pose with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore during the send-off ceremony in New Delhi.   -  AFP

Grassroots initiatives and support for top athletes go together in Sports Ministry’s efforts for a brighter future for sports and sportspersons in India, according to Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

Speaking at the official send-off ceremony for the 572-athlete strong Indian contingent for the upcoming Asian Games, Rathore revealed plans of including U-21 category of athletes from across the country to compete “on a good platform, and in a competitive environment” by 2019.

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“We have worked a lot [towards the Khelo India initiative]. In Khelo India, to the 16 and 17-year-olds, by 2019, we will bring U-21 athletes [in the fray]. We will enable them to play. And all of us together — [Indian Olympic Association], federations, and the Ministry — will select athletes from that group and ensure that they can train in private and State-sponsored academies,” Rathore said.

As the athletes rise to new levels of performance and expertise, however, bureaucracy should not become a hindrance, recognised Rathore.

He said, “We have created a different committee, in which it is our endeavour to minimise our weaknesses of today. We wish to ensure that elite athletes do not have to go through the red-tapism or bureaucracy, so that the athletes’ challenges remain confined to the performance arena.”

Encouraging the athletes chosen to participate in the Games, Rathore said, “When you participate in the Games, your own identity is lost, and your identity is by one name only — India. So, whatever you do, on the field or off the field, remember this that you are leading a billion-strong nation.”

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Wishing the athletes well for the marquee event, Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra announced that Neeraj Chopra, javelin thrower and 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, will be India’s flag bearer.

The 800-strong contingent, including support staff and other officials, will be headed by Wresting Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, chosen as the chef de mission.

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Besides the official jerseys presented to a number of participating athletes across various disciplines at the occasion, an ‘Olympic participants pin’ was awarded to luge athlete Shiva Keshavan for having represented India at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.