Q. Do you feel there is a lack of sports culture in our country? What is the remedy?
A: My vision is that we must break the stereotypes attached to sports. In our country, we have always looked towards sports as an activity that a child pursues almost as a hobby alongside studies. Not many kids think of making a career in sports because it rarely has long-term sustainability.
After the active years in sport ends, many of whom may have done well, are still not financially stable. That is because we don’t have a long-term career roadmap for them.
That has to be put in place. When sports starts looking as a sustainable career option, more youngsters will take it up seriously and sporting talent will emerge.
Q. Funds have been one of the main defeating points...
A: There is no fund crunch in supporting the training needs of athletes. We have been spending the money at every level. Khelo India, which is our talent hunt programme at grassroots level, offers Rs five lakh per year scholarship for eight years to those who qualify.
These are the Under 17, Under 21 players. The mid-level players are covered under the annual competition and training calendar. We send out contingents of athletes to train abroad and also fund their international competitions.
The Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has been funding elite athletes for not just sports training but also for their training-related needs, including types of equipment, physiotherapists, mental trainers… Money is being invested wherever a talented athlete needs it.
Q. Of late, cricket has come under the NADA. Your take on this issue that has been appreciated by all in sports.
A: This should have been done a long time ago. No federation or athlete is above the law of the land. If there is a set of rules for athletes, then it must be followed by all. We all want sports to be clean and transparent, and I am happy BCCI agreed to this move.
Q. I am sure you have a bag full of remedies for the lack of infrastructure, recognition of sports other than cricket, lack of ambition or a national plan. Please share your thoughts.
A: Infrastructure development is the key to getting good results in international events. If your athletes do not have exposure to international-level facilities when they are training, how do you expect them to perform?
Since taking charge as the Minister, I have visited almost every Sports Authority of India facility and noticed that we need to improve on many counts. I have asked officials to earmark what needs immediate attention and what is the long-term infrastructure development plan. Soon, you will see the changes.
Q. Your comments on our athletes who would board the flight to Tokyo for 2020 Olympics
A: We are less than a year away from Tokyo 2020 and preparations are on in full swing. We did very poorly in the last Olympics and I am confident that we will fare much better this time.
But having said that India’s overall performance in Olympics has not been satisfactory. We are a country of 1.3 billion people, and in all these years, we have won only 28 medals.
To ensure that India does well in the most elite sporting events in the world, some very concrete steps need to be taken. The first of those is to identify young talent and groom it.
We have created a Developmental Group under the TOPS, where athletes, who have potential but are too young to compete in 2020, are being trained. These will be our medal hopefuls in 2024 and 2028. We have planned this now, so that the results show years later.