It is not clear if any Prime Minister of India has ever said that he or she wants to create a culture of sports in our country and appealed to parents to encourage children who want to play sports. Perhaps Modi ji is the first to do so. The Prime Minister has not only asked parents to encourage sports but has also shown how it is done, by showing keen interest in sports and our sportspersons.
Often, people only care about a sportsperson’s success. When someone fails, they are forgotten. However, the most important thing in an athlete’s life is to know that there is someone who cares about their struggle, regardless of success or failure. From Modi ji’s actions, it is clear that his respect is for the effort that sportspersons put in, and not necessarily just medals. This shone warmly in his post-Olympics interactions with Olympians that recently played on television where he spent time with both the winners and the triers. PR Sreejesh made an important observation where he told the Prime Minister that most people call when the team wins, but the Prime Minister had called even when they lost and that meant a lot to them.
The way Modi ji spoke, for example, with Vinesh Phogat, a trier, and persuaded her against getting angry at herself for not winning a medal especially stood out. He said, “Never let success go to your head and never let failure go to your heart”. This is sage counsel not only for her but also for many others in that event who had not won any medal. Athletes who compete at the level of Olympics have great expectations of themselves and when their hopes are dashed, it is easy for them to get into self-punishment mode. In such lonely times, they need a shoulder of support, and who better than India’s Prime Minister to show that a whole nation stands with them?
There is an effortless comfort and natural warmth in the way the Prime Minister connects with sportspersons. He knew the names of most athletes and connected with them easily on first name basis. He knew about Lovlina Borgohain’s mother’s health, he spoke about the meaning of Dutee Chand’s name, he asked Ravi Dahiya to be less serious and more cheerful and connected with most athletes in a way that only people who know or follow them for long could.
It is also not that Modi ji knew only about the personal side of the athletes. He had clearly followed the Olympics closely and understood the nuances of each sport. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for him to ask Bajrang Punia about his continuation despite injury, or to ask Ravi Dahiya about the bite he suffered and also enquire with Neeraj Chopra on how he knew he had won the moment he threw the javelin. For an athlete, it would be a moment to remember that the Prime Minister was following their matches so keenly.
Typically, any government hosted occasion is formal, with speeches by politicians where sportspersons are just a sideshow. This, sadly, has been the political culture revolving sports for decades now, giving a subtle message to sportspersons that they do not matter. But in the Prime Minister’s meeting with Olympians, there were no speeches and no formalities. The Prime Minister even held the mike for some athletes who did not know if the mike was on or off! This clearly gives them the message that they matter, what they say matters.
Throughout the event, it was clear that the Prime Minister ensured that sports remained the focus and that it was about those who sweat it out for India at the Olympics rather than about ministers or bureaucrats. This is an important message for youngsters who are in the field of sport.
Perhaps, an event like this is even possible because Modi ji is truly interested in sports and in India’s rise in various different sports. Otherwise, there would have been no need for him to specifically mention CA Bhavani Devi’s contribution. The Prime Minister said that a medal or lack of it did not matter as she had charted new territory in bringing fencing to the forefront in India.
The images of the Modi ji treating Neeraj Chopra with churma and PV Sindhu with an ice cream may have gone viral. While those are warm moments, the real takeaway from these times is that the person who leads India’s democracy thinks sports and sporting culture matter. This, in itself, will give many young and budding sport stars greater hope about their future as athletes in India. They will know they will be respected and treasured.
This is what encourages the creation of a sporting culture, which will be one of Modi ji s most important legacies.
I, as a sportsperson, am so emotional and glad to see the sports fraternity getting love and affection from the PM.
I would like to add if we have to win more medals in future we need to focus on sports infrastructure and there should be no duty on the sports goods that top sportsmen need to use.
Modi ji, Aaj app ne puree sports fraternity ka dil jeet liya hai . Jai Hind.
(The writer was the captain of the Indian Cricket team which won the 1983 World Cup)