Athletes split over Salman as Olympics ambassador, IOA stands firm

  • Agencies, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 26, 2016 09:51 IST
Bollywood actor Salman Khan with boxer Mary Kom and hockey captain Sardar Singh during a function where he was appointed as the goodwill ambassador for the Indian contingent of Rio Olympics 2016, in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Bollywood star Salman Khan’s appointment as the goodwill ambassador of India’s Rio Olympics contingent prompted strong reactions from the sports fraternity and social media users.

Sportspersons, including wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt and sprint legend Milkha Singh criticised the Indian Olympic Association’s move to appoint Khan, who has previously courted controversy for involvement in a drink-driving case and a blackbuck hunting case.

London Olympic bronze medallist, Dutt (33) questioned what Khan had done in the field of sports to be involved in the Rio Olympics. He also said the Olympics was not a place for an actor to promote his movies.

“The country needs medals, not sponsors,” Dutt said.

Milkha Singh, who won the Gold medal in 1958 and 1962 Asian games, said, “India has produced so many sportspersons who have given their sweat and blood for the country -- such as PT Usha, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Ajit Pal and so many others. One of them could have been made a goodwill ambassador.”

“What was the need to import a person from Bollywood” said Milkha Singh, also known as the The Flying Sikh.

Beijing Olympic 2008 gold-winner, Abhinav Bindra, however, tweeted in support of the IOC’s decision: “am sure you will use your tremendous goodwill to help Indian Olympic Sport and Olympic athletes (sic).”

Hockey player Sardar Singh and boxer Mary Kom felt that Salman’s mass appeal will help raise awareness about Olympics ahead of the Games, which begin in Rio de Janeiro in August.

“Salman has a huge fan base. He has good views on sports and it’s a good thing for Indian sports that he has come on board. A lot of people are getting connected to Olympic sports because of him. (But) People are entitled to their views. I respect their opinion,” Sardar said.

“It’s good for us to have a brand ambassador like him,” said Mary Kom, a bronze-medallist from the 2012 London Olympics.

IOC secretary general Rajiv Mehta stood firm on the association’s decision and said, “We are very happy and thankful on Salman’s offer to support Olympic Sports in this country. This association is only a gesture and does not include any monetary consideration.”

“When celebrities who appeal to public come forward to help naturally we get more publicity which is good for sports,” IOA vice-president Tarlochan Singh said on Sunday.

The Association, however, said after a barrage of criticism that it would also rope in icons from music, cricket and other sports to motivate athletes.

Read | IOA defends Salman appointment for Rio, says will rope in more icons

Woman basketball player, Pratima Singh, added to the furore and said: “Give chance to a sportsperson, make them the celebrity and their appeal will be listened by crowds too.”

The coach of Indian women’s basketball team, Divya Singh, tweeted: “When india has its presence felt in olympics y limelight should be given to non sports person? Our Heros r@DuttYogi @NSaina @8_SardarSingh (sic)”.

Comedians too chimed in to the controversy. A Twitter user wrote: “Salman khan to be India’s brand Ambassador at the Olympics, that’s like replacing Aishwarya Rai at the Cannes festival with Hardik Pandya.”

Others mounted criticism and resonated Milkha Singh’s views, asking if India doesn’t have enough sportspersons to promote Olympics.

Salman’s fans, on the contrary, stepped up to defend their icon.

IOC chose Salman Khan as the goodwill ambassador from a list that included other Bollywood stars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Salman was reportedly chosen because of his ability to connect with the youth.

Salman’s latest film ‘Sultan’ is a sports-drama which sees him in the role of a wrestler from a small town who goes on to achieve international success. The Bollywood star has been seen at Pro-Kabaddi league matches last year and was also linked to the Indian Super League football franchise FC Pune City.

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