India bid under Modi to become sports superpower

The creation of a separate Sports Ministry in 2020 speaks volumes about Prime Minister Modi’s passion for sports.
(Express Illustrations)
(Express Illustrations)

The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 was India’s most successful Olympics ever, where I, too, won a medal for my country. There was euphoria all around the Indian contingent when we returned home. Before leaving for Tokyo, we met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He motivated us to give our best. So, we were again anticipating a meeting with the PM after our return. Within a few days, we were invited to Lok Kalyan Marg.

We had a very interesting interaction with Modi ji where we shared our experiences with him. Modi ji lauded all of us and exhorted us to strive to do better in future. He shared his government’s roadmap for Indian sports and sought our cooperation to make India a sporting superpower. He asked us to help youngsters and budding sportspersons, groom them and share our experiences and expertise with them. It was a meeting worth remembering.

But a surprise awaited me. As we all enjoyed our snacks after the meeting, Prime Minister Modi came up and offered me my favourite ice-cream. He was fulfilling a promise which he had made to me before my departure to Tokyo. He had promised to have ice cream with me if I won a medal in the Tokyo Olympics. That moment will remain with me forever.

Who can forget how Prime Minister Modi comforted the inconsolable Indian women’s hockey team after they had lost the bronze medal match in the Tokyo Olympics? Similarly, when the Indian women’s cricket team lost the gold medal in the recently held Commonwealth Games, Modi ji lauded the team for their spectacular performance and motivated every player. When the Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj retired after a highly successful career in international and domestic cricket, Prime Minister Modi wrote to her, thanking her for her contributions to Indian cricket and sports and how she made India proud. He also exhorted the youth to take inspiration from the life of Mithali Raj. All these instances reflect the personal touch of PM Modi with sportspersons.

I have interacted with Prime Minister Modi on several occasions. He has always called or met me whenever I won a tournament or a medal. All this motivates me and encourages me to do well for my country. He has always inspired every sportsperson and athlete to give their best without worrying about the result. His involvement in sports, his understanding of the needs of sportspersons, his interesting initiatives in sports, and his efforts in developing infrastructure and giving special attention to the needs of sportspersons—have all made a huge difference in India’s performance at global events.

The vision of Prime Minister Modi and the mission mode in which his government is working to promote sports and support sportspersons reflects in his unique schemes and programmes. For instance, the ‘Target Olympic Podium Scheme’ (TOPS), which was introduced in 2015, is a path-breaking scheme that has been instrumental in ensuring that a “core group of athletes” have all the necessary personalised support in terms of foreign exposure, hiring of specific coaches, training and competition abroad. TOPS, which supports a “core group” of athletes and sportspersons like me, besides younger athletes training for the Olympics in 2024 and 2028 in the “development group”, has significantly propelled the level of results athletes are producing today. It has led to India’s best-ever Olympics and Paralympics performance in 2020, a Thomas Cup win after 73 years, and many such sporting achievements.

Athletes today have all the facilities they need, and the facilities are extended seamlessly by the government through the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India. This constant support ensures that athletes do not have to take stress regarding the funds needed for their training, and can concentrate on their game instead.

Today, most of us train in the best facilities in India and abroad, funded by the government. We don’t have to worry about our training, getting the right coaches, sports science support or specialised training equipment. This kind of support is not extended to sportspersons in most countries. The government’s constant engagement with athletes right from the grassroots level—Khelo India—to the elite athletes in TOPS, is a huge change that I have seen as an athlete in the last few years. This is the key to why India is doing so well. Thanks to these unique initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I am certain that India will continue to excel in sports in the years to come and emerge as a global superpower in major international sporting events.

I see Modi ji as a very able sports administrator. His passion and vision for Indian sports became evident when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he organised a one of its kind Khel Mahakumbh in the state. As prime minister, he conceptualised yet another unique scheme—Khelo India Youth Games—an initiative to search for young sporting talents from India’s villages and small towns. To carve out future talents, the Narendra Modi government has created several Khelo India Kendras. The creation of a separate Sports Ministry in 2020 speaks volumes about his passion for sports and his commitment to making India a superpower in sports.

Sports today are not just confined to tournaments and events. A holistic approach of the Narendra Modi government towards sports is going to change the way India takes its sports and games. The creation of India’s first National Sports University in Manipur with an expenditure of 800 crore in one big step in this direction. Similarly, Major Dhyan Chand Sports University is also coming up in Uttar Pradesh for higher education in sports. The Narendra Modi government has come out with the National Air Sports Policy, another important initiative to help grow our sports.

During his popular ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme, Modi ji has been regularly talking about sports and sporting personalities. He has been motivating young talents, besides warning them that there are no shortcuts to achieving success. He has been telling us not to lose hope in defeat and also not lose focus after success. The motivation from Prime Minister Modi, efforts and policy initiatives from his government on the ground, and transparency in the Indian sports administration—all augur well for the future of Indian sports. Our journey towards a bright sporting future has just begun.

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