Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the 2004 Olympic Games double trap silver medallist and newly-appointed Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, has clear targets if we are to draw inferences from some of his responses to the congratulatory messages on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
His replies to Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman as well as a fellow Member of Parliament, Ramdas Tadas, late on Sunday confirmed that he could be expected to have really sharp focus. Hitting old systemic ills for a six, creating possibilities for the young that did not exist in his own early stages of development and making sport not only a career option but also a lifestyle.
Going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pronouncements on India’s desire to excel in the Olympic Games and broad-basing sports, Rathore may have to expend considerable energy in these two key areas, seemingly laid too far wide apart from one another but having a striking symbiotic relationship between themselves.
Of course, Rathore will be the first to realise that having been a sportsperson does not necessarily guarantee administrative and managerial success. And if indeed, he succeeds in harnessing India’s talent, its dreams of becoming a sporting nation may come true. The three-year apprentice period in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will help him immensely.
He is now in the unenviable position of having to convince the Union Cabinet that the National Sports Bill, consigned to cold storage for a good part of four years after a futile attempt to get it to Parliament, will have to see the light of the day sooner than later. For that, he will first have to ensure a draft that is wider in its coverage and deeper in its approach to sports governance.
I recall a conversation with him a few years ago when he said India does not have a collective political will to change things, to change the attitude of the people towards sport and make India a healthy, competitive country. He now has the chance to shape the collective political will that can be the catalyst for change India needs.
“We need to address this at several levels. We need to urgently impress upon our young in the primary and secondary schools as well as colleges that sport can instill some wonderful values in their lives. Sporting facilities to help people utillise their youthful energies in a healthy way need not always be of Olympic standard.
“This will ensure that the present generation understands the importance of sport and keeps that going over the coming generations too. I am sure things can be done to improve levels of happiness by introducing children and adults alike to sport. Besides, we need to keep encouraging our elite performers to keep winning so that sport remains in the people’s psyche,” he had said.
It will also be imperative that Rathore now renews India’s war against doping, particularly focusing on two areas — ensuring adequate athlete education and leading the anti-doping movement that will resonate in the collective mind-space of lawmakers and sports administrators of all hues. Everyone would listen when he says India cannot afford to take the doping route.
He will have to read the recommendations made by the much-celebrated Olympic Task Force in its report and find ways in which to action the most reasonable suggestions. He will also have to provide direction to the bid to re-engineer the National Sports Code 2011 and present its new, evolved avatar. He will surely pay attention to the election procedure in the NSFs.
Among the challenges he will face almost as soon as he signs into the Ministry is the need to have a fresh look at the whole process of the National Sports Awards — from nominations to scrutiny, from screening to choosing the selection committee, from the points being allocated to various international events to the manner of the announcement of the winners.
Rathore is also aware that if athletes win medals at a lower-level competition, they are rewarded with more than if they won a medal in the highest competition. He said that the policy encouraged sportsmen to divide their energies into more events at lower levels and be richly rewarded rather than stick their necks out and achieve excellence at the Olympic level.
His relationship with all stakeholders, especially the bureaucracy that administers the Ministry and its departments, the Indian Olympic Association and the National Sports Federations, will go a long way in determining whether he will be able to successfully steer Indian sports in the right direction and at the right pace.
He took recourse from the law courts when he challenged National Rifle Association of India President Raninder Singh’s decision to nominate eight voting members. None would have imagined in 2013 that Rathore would become Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports with Raninder Singh needing to meet him at various fora as NRAI chief.
It was not surprising that Raninder Singh led the fraternity in greeting Rathore on his new assignment. “We strongly believe that, knowing first-hand the challenges faced by sports and sportspersons, he would add immense value to the development and growth of sports. We wish him all the very best in his new responsibility,” Raninder Singh wrote.
Come to think of it, the whole sporting fraternity has pinned its faith in him that he will deliver India from the situation it finds itself in. The elite athletes will expect him to help make their lives easier since he knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Yet, Rathore knows failure is an integral part of sport but there will be little room for that in the present assignment.
Back in 2004, he sustained hope and inspired a nation to believe in itself by winning Olympic silver. He has a bigger task now. It may appear patently unfair that the stakes have never been higher for a Minister of State (independent charge) for Youth Affairs and Sports than they are at the moment but Rathore will have to manage burgeoning, and perhaps unfair, expectations