NEW DELHI: Ever since it entered the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium amidst much fanfare for the opening ceremony of the 2011 Commonwealth Games, the Queen’s Baton has never had much luck in New Delhi.
In 2013, after IOA officials’ request to have it postponed due to Dussehra festivities were turned down, its showcasing in the city turned out to be a low-key ceremony.
Four years later, the Queen’s Baton has arrived in the city at a time when it is hosting the U-17 World Cup. As everyone’s attention was at the Delhi University rugby ground — where the India U-17 team was training for their match against Colombia on Monday — Sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took the baton at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Sunday evening.
The audience was mainly comprised of trainees from nearby sports hostels, and Rathore acknowledged as much when he started his speech with “Cricketers, swimmers and hockey players”.
He equated the baton relay to a challenge being laid down to the participating countries by the host nation, and urged Indian athletes to take it up. He however laid down a much more ambitious challenge to the country’s corporates. “I call upon the biggest corporates in the country to take over the five big stadiums in New Delhi and take care of their day-to-day running,” he said.
Rathore also called upon sports federations to clean up their act and make things easier for athletes. “The federations need to get more efficient. They need to appoint CEOs. We need to bring down IOA, federations and sports ministry officials who used to call the shots earlier. Their responsibility will be to give the athletes the necessary help and platforms.
“From now on, it’s all about player-centric preparation. We will make sure that there will be you, your aim and nothing else in between.” He also asked the world to not look at India as a country that is poor at sports. “We have 5,000 athletes preparing for the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, and they win one or two medals,” he said. “But we have 100 crore people. India is not a country poor at sports. It is a sleeping giant. And when it wakes up, the world will know its true potential.”