Rathore on ‘Khelo India’: An athlete-centric overhaul of sports system

In a chat with Sportstar, the 47-year-old Union Sports Minister speaks about the ambitious Khelo India School Games project and his plans to utilise modern technology to reach out to the youngsters from far-flung corners of the country.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is hoping to create the best ever school tournament through the Khelo India project.   -  PTI

 

India’s first individual silver medallist at the Olympics is now set to become a trendsetter as the supporter of sport in the country. For Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who won a silver in double trap shooting at the Athens Olympics in 2004, the race to reach out to the youth of India has just begun. It is the race to identify talent and support their ambitions to become champions.

In a chat with Sportstar, the 47-year-old Union Sports Minister speaks about the ambitious Khelo India School Games project and his plans to utilise modern technology to reach out to the youngsters from far-flung corners of the country.

Excerpts:

Q: What are the immediate steps that you have in mind?

A: The whole energy of bringing about changes acquires a new dimension. Schemes are made but execution is very important. The spirit should not be lost. Execution is extremely critical. I am grateful that the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) now is entirely focussing on the youth. The young India needs to have an environment where they feel confident about their bodies and are strong in their minds. The sense of self-confidence of beating the world needs to come at an age when they are walking in their shorts. That’s why we need to begin from schools.

Do you see any new developments from the time you were looking to take to sports?

There is a lot of awareness now coming in about fitness, diet. It’s not just an urban phenomenon any more. I represent a rural constituency. Serving aerated drink to the guests at home used to be the norm; there was too much sugar in the tea cup — all that is changing. Even in the rural areas people now prefer water or black/green tea. The number of youngsters who simply want to play is increasing phenomenally. We want to build on this awareness and empower people as to what needs to be done for physical fitness. That will start the process of changing the country into a sporting nation.

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How do you propose to go about it?

We are carrying out a physical fitness drive wherein, along with HRD Ministry and the Health Ministry, we are covering all the schools and mapping the children (between the age 10 to 18) for their physical abilities. This will be done every year. Once we map them, we will send the content through mobile applications and digital platforms to schools as to what should be done to improve his/her physical fitness.

How is this process going to help?

It leads to the biggest school event in the country. Sadly, today there is no school event worth its name. A standard has to be set at the school levels that if you played the Khelo India School Games (KISG), you have reached that level expected in schools.

What is the highlight of the KISG scheme?

To create the best ever school tournament (under-17) wherein the best of the NSFs come, the best of the SAI academies and the best of the schools come, and they compete in an environment where the technical facilities are absolutely world class. The records that they make and the memories that they take will inspire others. The youth should look to play the next KISG. This should be the target. Olympics may be a far-fetched thought at that age but he can play School Games. He would want to be on the TV and want to become that hero who people talk of. The Games will be broadcast. That becomes the first step to become a champion. We will follow it up with a college level Games. First benchmark will be under-17 and then under-21. By that time he is already hooked on to performing and achieving. From there he graduates to international competitions. Every child at the village level shall aim to excel at the national level.

We will identify talent in a democratic manner through our sports portal. Anyone can post the achievements or recommend someone. This portal and the KISG would work to find talent. We want to identify 1000 athletes and provide them continuous support for eight years worth Rs. 5 lakh per athlete each year. The parents don’t have to worry about supporting the kids. The athlete doesn’t have to look anywhere. Every year, we will add 1000 athletes to this list.

What other steps do you have in mind?

From next year we will bring international athletes to compete with them. We will invite athletes from all over the world to come and compete with our youngsters right at the school level. The level of achievement would be for all to see fair and clear.

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How about the infrastructure?

What we are doing is we are overhauling the system from the first step of attitude to the final one of delivery where in the athlete holds the centre stage all the time. Everything will be centred round the athlete. A lot of people (NGOs, PSUs, some States and Corporates) are willing to contribute to raise the infrastructure and create events. We have to bring about unison of their efforts.

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Would you elaborate?

We will map all the sports fields in the country on an IT-based infrastructure. At some point very soon, wherever you are in the country, you can check how far are you from the nearest tennis court or basketball court, who does the court belong to and how you can access it. The idea is to utilise to the optimum the sports facilities available.

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Would you have partners in this project?

We are willing to partner with any of the other private sectors. Khelo India in that way is extremely flexible in partnering and nurturing the infrastructure which may be owned by someone else. We will empanel this infrastructure and make it available for the youth.

What was your personal experience?

When I was competing I had to first find out where Tughlakabad was. Once there, I had to find out how to get access to the shooting ranges. How do I start? It was said that you could shoot if you knew someone. How bad and ironical for a country like ours. I want to change this approach.

We will map all the sports fields in the country on an IT-based infrastructure. At some point very soon, wherever you are in the country, you can check how far are you from the nearest tennis court or basketball court, who does the court belong to and how you can access it. The idea is to utilise to the optimum the sports facilities available.

How do you propose to utilise modern technology to improve our sports?

We will identify talent in a democratic manner through our sports portal. Anyone can post the achievements or recommend someone. This portal and the KISG would work to find talent. We want to identify 1000 athletes and provide them continuous support for eight years worth Rs. 5 lakh per athlete each year. The parents don’t have to worry about supporting the kids. The athlete doesn’t have to look anywhere. Every year, we will add 1000 athletes to this list. We talk about a P.V. Sindhu, a wrestler, a shooter, and then wonder who would be the next? We will find an answer to this from the system we will put in place. We will provide for their training; we will adopt some school, make that school a partner, provide the infrastructure; a SAI centre can be upgraded with facilities and athletes can stay there. We will work a way out. The athlete will get the funding from us. Non-performers would be weeded out.

How would you reach out to the millions of young athletes and make them aware of your plans?

We are launching a mobile application for each and every sport. We will start with the priority sports. We will launch mobile applications where anyone would know the rules in an interesting and animated video and also area dimensions of the sport one is interested in. There will be data on the top international and Indian athletes in that particular sport. If possible we would include gaming too in all those applications where the fans could have their favourite athletes compete in that sport. The entire knowledge would be available in those applications. It has got the Cabinet approval and I invite people who can help us develop this application. The Prime Minister is keen to have the sporting data of our champions available on these applications.

 

How are you going to introduce professionalism and accountability?

Sports is now looked as a career. That is one positive change that has come in our country. The corporate sector has also started looking beyond cricket. We are also looking to plan careers post active sports for the athletes. We are having discussions with the HRD and I am getting very positive feedbacks that sports will soon be made a compulsory subject in education. Lessons on fitness, diet, sports, would be taught in schools.

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How do you look ahead?

I have met some federations and made it clear that we have to set high benchmarks. Personally, I had to prove myself every time I entered the arena. You don’t carry your legacy. It can help you make an impact but not for long. Every time you enter an arena for a competition, you have to start from scratch. This innings of mine is no different. I am starting from scratch but the goal is to make sportsmen take the centre stage.

 

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