The ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia have given India a number of new heroes to rally behind as the country continues its big push to become a force in the world of track-and-field, and the signs are there that there has been a paradigm shift in how things are done, putting the athletes and their needs above other matters.
For long, India has been a one-sport country, with Cricket hogging all the limelight, pushing other sports out of the window. The cheers for Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar were so loud that the cries of support for the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, Dhyan Chand and Vishwanathan Anand often slipped under the radar, or were also-rans.
But this is 2018. While Cricket is still at the forefront, the other sports are being given their due credit, and are getting the limelight they deserve. Also, the fact that this is an intentional shift is clear from the big change atop India's sporting hierarchy. Simply put, in a position where previously there would be a politician in charge, atop India's sports ministry now is a medal-winning Olympian, Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
A glimpse of how it's athletes-first now becomes clear from a photo from the Asian Games that has gone viral. The photo is from the dining area at the games village and in it, members of the Indian contingent can be seen being served food by none other than the minister himself.
Col Rathore, who won a Silver medal in the Double Trap at the 2004 Athens Olympics, regularly tweets encouragement for India's athletes and champions their successes, bringing further limelight and attention to what have historically been lower-profile sports.
In the ongoing Asian Games, at the time of writing, the country has won 37 medals so far, and the number is expected to increase. There are currently seven Gold medals, 20 Silver medals and 10 Bronze medals, and the minister has been following the achievements closely.
Earlier this year, in July, Col Rathore spoke about the importance of athletes and not the authorities. Established in 1984, the long-prevailing Sports Authority of India (SAI) was renamed to 'Sports India'. It's not a name changing exercise Col Rathore stressed at the time, saying, “There are many who will read beyond headlines and focus on the work that gets put in to address even the most minute of concerns for our sportsmen. Why should any officer even flaunt 'authority' which he or she doesn't have?
"It's their job as officers to serve the athletes and serving sports. Let's create a better environment whether as SAI or IOA or even as federations. Therefore it is Sports India. Let's become sporting not just on the field but also in our attitude. This is all about bringing about that vital change. Thus we have wiped out Authority off Sports Authority of India which is now called Sports India.”
The minister was also in the news as his #HumFitTohIndiaFit fitness challenge went viral, with sportspersons, politicians, Bollywood stars, government officers, prominent personalities, and thousands of others joining in and posting videos of how they keep fit.