Only limited importance can be attached to the initial responses of “new” ministers about their plans ~ some have little knowledge of their departments beyond the introductory note left on their desk by officials.
Happily, there was a qualitative difference as Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took charge of the sports ministry. The marksman, who won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, was bang on target from his very first shot.
Having personally tasted the “bureaucracy” of the ministry, he promised a thorough overhaul. That must have sounded melodic to sporting ears. His opening statement was in pleasant contrast to his typical fauji belligerence when he functioned as a defence spokesman after an anti-militant strike along the Indo-Myanmar frontier. “The philosophy of the sports ministry now onwards will be samman and suvidha. Respect for every athlete, and facilities for every player who is representing the country,” he asserted.
“There is only one VIP and that is the sportsperson and nobody else.” If that refreshing new identification deflated a few officials’ egos, Rathore sprinkled salt on the wounds by declaring the ministry a service provider, a facilitator. Whether that will effect a change of attitude among those who felt empowered because they held the purse-strings will take time to assess, but the minister has broken fresh ground.
His emphasising who qualifies as the VIP should also cut to size the politicians and ex-officials that the federations have been seeking because they are supposed to wield “clout”. That was one of the spin-offs of Rajiv Gandhi being drafted to “save” the Asian Games of 1982 ~ a clout so shamelessly abused in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Rathore has also done well to expand the horizon beyond the medals-count at the next Olympics: that skewed focus had made the sports-promotion exercise top-heavy with players at a lower level being ignored. His stress on sport being an education suggests a desire for mass voluntary participation, a simple case of “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”
Since Rathore also holds charge of I&B he might be able to promote television coverage of some less-popular disciplines: that would help spread the allure of sport, possibly boost the finances of the federations.
Financially self-sufficient federations are a long-term goal, even if that would mean the ministry losing the control and influence it wields over those who approach it begging-bowl in hand. Alas, such self-sufficiency is not palatable to “those in authority” ~ note the Judiciary-BCCI imbroglio.
There are so many other shortcomings in Indian sport, but having “taken a bead” in the right direction, Rathore appears posited to elevate personal silver to national gold. Re-working the sports administration is a challenge, as a soldier the minister should not duck that “scrap”.