Salman as Rio Squad Ambassador Might Create the Right BuzzLike any other issue, Salman Khanâs appointment as brand ambassador of the Indian contingent for the Rio Olympics has many dimensions. Sport in India, apart from cricket and to a much lesser extent soccer and hockey, does not capture the imagination of the common man. When we talk about events in the Olympics, the interest level plummets further. This is the result of uninspiring sports policy down the years and below par results in most Olympic disciplines. India is caught in the chicken and egg syndrome â what comes first, sporting infrastructure or results?
By Sunil Garodia
Athletes yearn for better gear, world-class training facilities, better equipment, better coaches, better accommodation, better food (many reports prove that officials make money by giving sub-standard food to athletes and still India hopes for medals!) and reasonable allowances (officials get more than athletes) abroad. Year after year, we come back empty handed and are told that the spirit is in participating, winning or losing does not matter. Dreams die and others do not dare to dream.
In this scenario, is there any harm in appointing one of the most popular Hindi film stars of recent times to focus attention on the Indian Olympic squad? Popular Bollywood stars have the power to draw immediate attention to any issue. Popular actors have been used for social messaging, like pulse polio vaccination and having toilets in every home, to name just two such schemes. Then, no one said that a doctor should have been used for polio vaccination message or a sweeper for the toilet one. The purpose of any message is to draw maximum attention of the target group. In that sense, Salman Khan would at least create a buzz for the contingent amongst the youth.
His appointment is being castigated for two main reasons: one, sportspersons are cribbing that since sport is involved, a past legend could have been used. But is there any sportsperson from Olympic disciplines who matches the drawing power of Salman Khan? Milkha Singh has been most vocal, but despite the movie on his exploits, he does not even have 10 percent of the charisma Salman possesses to convey the message to the youth. After all, the purpose of the brand ambassador is to rivet attention on the contingent, isnât it?
That brings us to the second and more serious objection. It is being said that despite now âbeing human,â Salman Khan is guilty of many misdemeanors in the past â like hunting endangered species, possessing unlicensed firearms, âkillingâ a pavement dweller in a rash driving case â and is hence not the perfect role model for the youth. Salman is defending himself in court in all these cases and has even got the benefit of the doubt in the hit and run case. And it is not about Salman Khan and he is not promoting his next film at public or state expense. He is merely being the medium to tell the countryâs youth that their team is participating in the Rio Olympics and they should support it. When Salman will say this, the youth will at least pause to listen. If this message goes down well and if it manages to make a few thousand youngsters take up Olympic sports in a serious way, Salman would have done his work.
The IPL has shown how Bollywood participation took cricket up by a few notches (although some say turned it into a circus) and made an untested and untried product one of the most valued sporting brands in the world within two years. If the same can be done for other disciplines, it will make for a larger participation in sporting activities. If the âbig, bad Bollywoodâ can contribute to this in a positive way, why keep calling it âbad?â