Rathore admits great satisfaction in 'giving happiness to thousands and thousands of children'

Sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore explains the objective of Khelo India School Games, the challenges that have been overcome and the road ahead.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore poses for a group photo with the competitors in Khelo India School Games 2018.   -  PTI

It is a project close to Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s heart — to give sports at grassroots level the much-needed fillip. 

As the first Khelo India School Games (KISG), held at state-of-art venues, grinds to a finish in 16 different disciplines in the Capital, Col. Rathore opens up about the games.

Read: KheloIndia biggest gainer in sports budget 2018-19

Excerpts:

How happy are you with the way things have moved with the Khelo India School Games?

We wanted to set up something that is really aspirational, holistic, and something that is do-able again and again. There are a few things which are in our control and a few which needs participation from the rest. Our campaign has been about creating a behavioural change. Our slogan is simple: KheloIndia, Saath mein hain hum (‘Play India, we are with you’).

We wanted to strike out the old philosophy which said, ‘Kheloge kudoge to banoge kharab’. So we changed that to ‘Kheloge, kudoge toh banogelajawab’.

It is a grand marriage between education and sports, to make a better progress as a nation.

A: When we say ‘padayi mein thoda sports daalte hain’, we mean that let us mix some sports in education. This is our call. To broadbase sports. Let sports be participative. Only when everyone plays, play for fun, play for fitness, play to learn values of life, you face defeats and victories, and you still remain balanced, it is a remarkably healthy situation. All these values of life are very easily learnt from sports.

To strike at the grassroots, and create a culture of sports in such a grand scale at the school level, needs a lot of courage to pursue and execute, as the elite are constantly demanding attention and support.

A: As I said in the beginning, we created a competition of aspirational value. We wanted it to be world class. It doesn’t take much to create a world class competition. We have the officials, we have got the federations, we have got the States together, we have got the education department as part of it. We have got the ex-athletes to come and be part of the selection committee.

Rathore: Idea is to make KheloIndia aspirational for youngsters

This is the first ever competition in the country which the Ministry of sports has conducted. Otherwise, the federations conduct competition. 

One it is a great work in itself that we have got everyone together. Secondly, we have created a revenue model out of it, wherein we have got a top class broadcasting partner. That is a winning formula for the game in itself. It is a huge thing. This is like a leap for Indian sports, at the under-17 level. The next one is going to be of under-21. We have a five year contract that has already been given out. It is assured that these Games will run for the next five years at the same level, or probably, even better. 

Will the School Games be conducted at the same time every year, like this year?

No. Because school scheduling and curriculum is so tight, we were faced with the option of surrendering the Games this time, owing to paucity of time. And doing it the next year. 

The vision of the Prime Minister was very clear. Come what may, we have to deliver. Am very happy to say that we delivered a very high quality Games in a very, very short time. Now the standard has already been set, and the cause has been tossed. Now it is for all the school children, all the States, all the schools, to tell the world that our athletes won there, participated there. All the school students can have a very achievable dream of participating in a competition like the Olympics, but at the under-17 level and within our own country.

We probably might sprinkle a little international flavour in these School Games. We might have invitational athletes coming from other countries, running and competing with our athletes. But the competition remains under-17, aspirational, that they all can dream about and do it. 

Young athletes suddenly become household figures thanks to the power and reach of television.

We want to make heroes of our school children. Talk about their preparation. Having seen the level of competition, and the quality of competition itself, we will prepare better now. In another three to four years, I can seen great improvement in quality of performance. To answer your main question, we will soon announce the dates for the next edition. We might probably have it in the month of November-December. The idea is to have it at a time when there is no pressure of exams etc.

Are you convinced about the genuine of age of the players, and also whether there is a good dope testing mechanism to check players gaining unfair advantage.

For the fear of a few rule breakers, I will never surrender the Game itself. The goal is so much bigger. Of course, we have dope testing happening in the Games. Irrespective of a few rule breakers, who may or may not be there, the bigger picture is that we need these Games, we need people to aspire to be in these Games. We will ensure that we have it fair and square.

It looks world class and lively on television. How has been response in terms of numbers, of people seeing it around the country, with wide open eyes.

Yes, the response has been very positive, on social media, and otherwise. Everybody, including the opposition have been praising it. It is obviously right. There is no politics in this. It is the mandate of the government to create an infrastructure, both soft and hard, for our younger generation to prosper and become better. We have certainly delivered on that account. It is something that needs to be carried on and supported by each and everyone. 

It is very likely that sports will get the prominence that it deserves in schools from now on.

Yes, that is the goal. One of the very interesting sequence in the opening ceremony was the guru-shishya parampara. There is a specific reason for having that section. Today the physical education teachers in schools, are those lot of people that need greater support from the schools themselves.

In a parent-teachers meet, the parents will always go and meet the physics, mathematics, English etc. teachers. I want to ask the parents, how many of them have gone and met the physical education teachers? 

Whereas, if you ask the child who is the teacher who tells them, to never give up, play as a team, play fair, and even if you have lost you can come out stronger. It is the physical teacher who does it.

It is important to elevate the status of coaches to that of gurus. The respect changes when you call the guru a guru.

A lot of kids who skip school to focus on sports, may now be inclined to go to school. Education is important for development. The School Games may have a positive impact on the society from that viewpoint.

Asbolutely. If you want to play under-17 School Games, you have to come through schools. For every athlete who has made a career out of sports, even that athlete needs to be intelligent, to create value out of your sports. 

What is going to be the mechanism to support. Will only the medallists get support. Or will a medal guarantee support. Or non-medallists would also get support, if they have the talent and potential.

The point is that we are looking for the best talent, which has the potential of being better going forward into the international arena. If the talent is there, it would be on the podium. But there is no restriction, as such. It could be that somebody from a certain event is not there at all, in the list to be supported.

We will identify training institutes. We will continuously monitor these athletes. It is on performance that they will get their scholarship and support. 

Some of the athletes had already established themselves as champions in the Commonwealth and Asian youth levels. Even for them this platform may be a boon to make an impact and move forward.

Absolutely, it is a window to showcase yourself, since it is so aspirational and so well conducted, This will become a key competition for every athlete and sports person. 

This will be a launch pad for all the future athletes. We have the IP (Intelligence property), it is entirely ours, the broadcast. When few years down the line when we have Olympic athletes from this bunch, we will also have a recording of how they played as a 17-year-old or younger. We will also have a record of who were their coaches when they were under-17. When we honour those whose trainees win Olympic medals, we will also be honouring those coaches who had guided them in the early stage. This data will be there for every year, and for ever.

That is why the prime minister announced that we are changing the scheme of rewarding the coaches, that it is not just the apex coaches who will get all the incentives but the incentives will go down to the grass-root coach, and the developmental coach. The data is going to come from here.

The entire sporting fraternity has got together to create an awareness in the whole country about the importance of sports.

A: It is a collective effort. As sportsmen, we have learnt to play as a team. This Ministry of Sports belongs to every sportsman who has achieved for this country. With their collective wisdom, we will work and ensure that we have the continuous support of all these people of various levels, for various issues. 

The general impression is that stadiums are out of bounds for the common man. Entry is difficult. The hygiene standards are low. The facilities, in terms of washrooms, are not well maintained. Will there be some attention to these things because there is going to be a boom of interest towards sports? Will there be more friendly access to the stadiums for everyone?

The curse of the 21st century is terrorism. I can’t blame the police for doing their work and being extra careful. We didn’t want any untoward incident to happen with the young athletes. Nevertheless, the point is well taken. In the future competitions we will also try and ensure that we have easy access for audience, And make sure that the audience would not come into the field of play. The barriers we will create, There is a lot of work that needs to be done. Within very short notice, what we have done is phenomenal. Undoubtedly, there is lots to work to be done.

Therefore, our Khelo India team is going to be made very professional. The backing will come from the Ministry. But the people who will be executing it will be professionals. There is a lot of work beginning for us, once the Games are over !

Every point needs to be addressed. Like in shooting, every shot counts. You can’t let any single shot escape !

It must be satisfying to execute something of this magnitude so quickly after visualising it.

I had the same pain in the calf muscle, on the day of the opening ceremony, which I used to have while competing at the highest level. It is because of the stress, nervousness, pressure. You don’t let it show on your face. But it is there in your muscles. There is a great amount of satisfaction in giving happiness to thousands and thousands of children. I know that they had met a lot of people and said that we could have never imagined playing in such an arena with such television coverage. The parents are thrilled to the quality of the track suits, to the delivery of the Games. Everything has been so high quality and they are so happy about it. That gives a tremendous sense of happiness.

Read: KheloIndia to have separate women's championship in future

The Prime minister is happy that the vision he had, we have been able to live it up. We will execute it further ahead. So, he has the sense of confidence in the team that he had entrusted the task to deliver. There is a great sense of satisfaction, equal to winning a medal yourself. 

Are you going to change the age group and tune it to lower age groups for future competitions.

The competitions will remain the same, as we have to work through a system. Competition can only be of a certain age bracket. For our talent hunt, we will go down to younger athletes. 

Will there be additional disciplines brought into the fold, and possibly some removed?

I don’t think that there is any question of removing any discipline at the moment. We would certainly aspire to add a few more to the next Khelo India School Games. It is too early to decide on them. There are a lot more popular games where Indians are playing well. We would like to include them as well. 

As regards the talent search, I mentioned to the elite sportspersons, who are part of the selection panel, that they must propagate within their friends circle that if any of them knows of a talent anywhere around their surroundings, please identify that, and let us know. We will record the name of the person who has identified the talent. That record will always remain with us. If that talented person does well, the person who has identified that talent would always be cherished and recognised. We will obviously check and ensure that the talent is good for us to absorb.

Any other point that you want to make?

Yes. We want the States who have the capacity to come forward and volunteer to host these Games in the future. We will provide them all the support. We want the Games to move around the country. Specially North East, or South. We would love these Games to go around every year. 

With the College Games thrown in, there will be more Games in more places?

Yes. Even the women Games, with only women competing with each other, Even those Games will be in different States. 

Will they also have world class television coverage like this?

Right now I can’t say. We have just begun. Let’s see. 

When do you intend to have the College Games?

College Games, we will have next year. Women Games probably in the second half of the year. 

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