Salman, Rahman give athletes inspirational send-off

Training, ceremonial dresses and team kit were presented to the Rio-bound athletes in a send-off ceremony organised by the Indian Olympic Association in New Delhi on Monday.

Sports Minister Vijay Goel, actor Salman Khan, music composer A.R. Rahman with the Rio-bound Indian athletes at a send-off ceremony in New Delhi on Monday.   -  PTI

Music maestro A.R. Rahman and film star Salman Khan provided a fitting send-off with their inspirational address to the Rio-bound Olympic athletes at a function organised by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) here on Monday.

With the unveiling of the training and ceremonial dresses to be worn in Rio, the Olympic fever caught on, especially with the presence of tennis star Sania Mirza, World Championship badminton medallist P.V. Sindhu, K. Srikkanth, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, wrestlers Babita Kumari, Vinesh Phogat, judoka Avtar Singh, table tennis player Manika Batra among a battery of athletes.

Saying that music and sports were powerful unifying factors, A.R. Rahman projected a positive future for Indian sports by pointing out that youth made 60 per cent of the population. ‘’Nothing should stop us. Let us show the world, how we do it’’, said Rahman. He sang ' Koi hamse jeetna pave' to inspire the athletes and wound up the show with a characteristic ‘’Jai Ho’’.

Salman Khan, one of the Goodwill Ambassadors of the contingent, was cryptic with his message, goading the athletes to return as late as possible from the Games. ‘’Give your best, and leave the rest to God. But, don’t leave too much,’’Salman said in his inimitable style.

Both Rahman and Salman honoured a string of team sponsors with flowers, and by presenting the team kit and bouquet to the athletes and coaches present.

Various sponsors came up with different campaigns like ‘’namak ke waastey’’, and ‘’I am Team India’’, to boost the morale of the athletes, even as everyone impressed upon the idea that the good wishes of the entire nation was behind the 120 Indian athletes who will compete in the Rio Games.

Interestingly, the women power would be to the fore, as 54 athletes representing India in the Olympics will be women

Indian Olympic Association president N. Ramachandran underlined the fact that the brand value of IOA was estimated at Rs.500 crores and attempts were being made towards financial independence in the lines of the U.S. Olympic association which was funding the various national federations.

‘’Of course, we need the government support for infrastructure and facilities,’’ he clarified.

‘’All the 1.2 billion people will be cheering for you. Olympics is not just winning medals, but qualifying for it is also a huge task’’, said Ramachandran, as he highlighted the fact that the number of Indian athletes this time for the Olympics was about 30 per cent more than London.

The secretary of the Union Sports Ministry, Rajiv Yadav, said that the government was liberal in funding the athletes for Olympics. ‘’Earlier, funds were given in three instalments. This time, we gave 90 per cent of funds at one go, and the remaining 10 per cent after the submission of accounts’’, he said adding that the qualification of Dipa Karmakar and the women’s hockey team built the confidence of the officials who were working on project Olympics.

IOA secretary general Rajiv Mehta thanked all the sponsors and proposed a vote of thanks hesitantly as he was expecting the Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel, who reached just in time to support the athletes and pose with them for photos.