The first Khelo India School Games, which was declared open by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a glittering opening ceremony at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, New Delhi on Wednesday, has elicited strong support from a galaxy of India’s top sports stars. They all feel that the Khelo India initiative and the Khelo India School Games will leave a lasting impact on Indian sports and will bring a paradigm shift in the country’s sporting culture.

Legends like PT Usha, Bhaichung Bhutia, Vijender Singh and iconic para athlete Deepa Malik were among those who lauded the efforts made by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports led by Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. They felt that the initiative will strengthen the system right from spotting talent to grooming and will benefit the country in the years to come.

Bhaichung feels that Khelo India has the power bring a significant change the way sports is perceived in the country. “The pyramid structure of Khelo India will have a strong and lasting impact at the grassroots level. It’s important that we reach out to the kids and encourage them to go out and play. That’s what Khelo India is intended to achieve. I am sure Khelo India will help to spot a good crop of fresh talent in greater numbers,” said the football legend.

Deepa Malik, one of India’s most decorated para athletes, who won a silver medal in the F-53 shot put event in the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games, felt that only when more people take to sport it will be the first step in the direction of becoming a global sporting superpower. “It is high time we pushed the country to become a sporting nation. If we talk about sports excellence then the total population of the country doesn’t matters. What matters is the sporting population. It’s only when we start catching talent at a young age and an impressionable age, it will help in inculcating the good habit of sports as a healthy lifestyle. It will help in changing the image of new India and transform India into a sporting powerhouse,” said Deepa.

Former track queen, PT Usha, shared her trials and tribulations when she was coming up through the ranks in her junior days. “We used to get support only after winning medals. We didn’t have a system that Khelo India is trying to put in place to capture, groom and nurture talent. Our young athletes are very fortunate to find this kind of support from the government. I am sure Khelo India will go a long way in all-round development of sports in India,” said the Payyoli Express.

Dipa Karmakar, who made history in the 2016 Rio Games by becoming the first gymnast from India to qualify for Olympics, feels that Khelo India will have direct bearing on India’s future medal prospects. “It’s a great opportunity for India to improve its medals tally in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. If all those who are selected through this programme train well, follow schedules and don’t have to worry about financial support, India will definitely win more medals than expected.”

Vijender Singh, the Beijing Olympics boxing bronze medallist, said that Khelo India has the potential to change the face of Indian sports.  “It’s a very good initiative by the government and a step in the right direction. It will give a huge boost to India’s Olympics aspirations.  I lend my full support to the Khelo India initiative.”