NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday applauded India's Olympic-bound athletes, saying that they have all endured "years of toil" and the country should back them without putting them under pressure during the Tokyo Games next month.
More than 100 Indian sportspersons have qualified for the mega-event, which was postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be held under strict health safety protocols from July 23 to August 8 in the Japanese capital.
"Every player going to Tokyo has had one's own share of struggle, and years of toil. They are going not only for themselves but for the country," Modi said in his 'Mann ki Baat' address to the nation.
"These players also have to enhance the glory of India and win the hearts of the people and that is why my countrymen I want to advise you too, that we should not pressurize these players knowingly or unknowingly.
"But support them with an open mind and bolster the enthusiasm of every player," he added.
India's best Olympic performance came in the 2012 London edition when the country snared six medals, including two silver.
In the 2016 Games, the performance dipped considerably and India could fetch just two medals.
In his address on Sunday, the PM also recalled his last conversation with sprint legend Milkha Singh, who died earlier this month after a battle with COVID-19.
"Friends, when we are talking of Tokyo Olympics, how can one forget the legendry athlete Milkha Singh.
Some days ago, Corona snatched him away from us.
When he was in hospital, I got an opportunity to talk to him," he said.
"While talking to him I had urged him.
I had said that you have represented India in 1964 Tokyo Olympics, so this time when our players are going to Olympics in Tokyo, you have to boost the morale of our athletes, have to motivate them with your message.
"He was so committed and emotional for sports that he immediately gave his consent even during his illness.
But unfortunately, providence had other plans," he added.
While talking about the athletes going for the Games this time, the PM picked life stories of archers Deepika Kumari and Pravin Jadhav, hockey player Neha Goel, boxer Manish Kaushik, race walker Priyanka Goswami, javelin thrower Shivpal Singh, badminton players Chirag Shetty and his partner SatwikSairaj Rankireddy, and fencer C A Bhavani Devi.
"In our country most of the sportspersons hail from the smaller towns and villages.
Our team that is going to Tokyo too has many such players whose life inspires a lot," Modi said.
The PM lauded Jadhav and Goel for coming through tough circumstances to qualify for their maiden Olympic Games.
While Jadhav's parents worked as labourers, Goel's mother sustained her dream by working in a cycle factory.
"His (Jadhav) parents run the family by working as labourers and now their son is going to participate in his first Olympics at Tokyo.
This is a matter of great pride not only for his parents but for all of us.
"Neha is a member of the women's hockey team going to Tokyo.
Her mother and sisters manage the family expenses by working in a cycle factory," he said.
Uttar Pradesh's Goswami, who would be competing in the 20km race walk event, also comes from a humble background.
Her father works as a bus conductor.
"As a child, Priyanka adored the bag that the medal winners were presented with.
It was this fascination that made her participate in the Race-Walking competition for the first time.
Now, she is a big champion of that," Modi said.
Modi also briefly touched upon the life of Bhavani, who is the first fencer from the country to qualify for the Games.
"I was reading somewhere that in order for Bhavani ji's training to continue, her mother had even mortgaged her jewellery," he said.
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