A group of private organisers launching an initiative of ‘catch them young’ was stumped by a googly from Milkha Singh. The tradition at these events is the guest of honour delivering an inspirational speech on how such an endeavour would go on to change sport in the country. But Milkha had other ideas.
“It is pleasing the organisers have planned a state championship that would culminate in a national event. But what after that? The children go back home. I want to ask, is there a follow up?” the “Flying Sikh” demanded in his booming voice catching everybody off guard.
As the Sports Authority of India director general, Jiji Thomson, looked on with some discomfiture, Milkha cited China’s example to say that India needed coaches who could ‘get results’.
“The standard of Indian sports is never going to improve if a coach continues to sit on his chair while the children toil on the field. You need to appoint coaches and tell them, ‘this is Milkha Singh’s record. You have four years to break it’.”
It was all fine, but the track legend seemed to conveniently forget that he too had been in a perfect position to bring about such a change in the thinking and working of Indian sport. But Milkha has no record of training a single athlete to international stardom. Neither is he credited with any significant contribution during his long tenure as director of sports in the Punjab government.
Thomson, whose organisation is often criticised as a white elephant, admitted that a lack of good coaches remained a problem. “UK produces 35,000 coaches a year out of which 80% work voluntarily, without pay. SAI takes 1,500 coaches annually, but 300 posts are currently vacant.”
Education and sports
But it was Milkha’s afternoon. When told that the Indian hockey team’s Dutch high performance director Roelant Oltmans wants players to learn English to help them communicate better, Milkha said: “China and Germany didn’t need the English language to achieve sporting success.”
Under-19 World Cup winning captain Unmukt Chand emphasised on the importance of education for a sportsman, calling it a ‘priority’. The 20-year-old Delhi batsman is putting down his junior World Cup experiences in a book to be published by the year end.