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A report card for Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju’s first month in office

A report card for Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju’s first month in office

Md Imtiaz

Published: 4 July 2019 7:14 AM GMT
Several arguments were raised when Col Rajyavardhan Rathore had to give up his portfolio as the Union Cabinet Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports. He was the first athlete -- double trap shooting Olympics silver-medal winner -- to be appointed in the position in the history of the Indian government. However, he didn't take much time to acknowledge his successor. Like a true sportsman, Col Rathore made way for Kiren Rijiju, one of the significant faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the northeastern region of India. Rijiju, who shared a friendly relationship with Rathore, enthusiastically responded to the greater responsibility calling for the entrenchment of sports culture in the country and promising 'a revolution' in Indian sports. A sports enthusiast, who has time and again celebrated India's sporting achievements, has also addressed issues in the Parliament before on behalf of the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports. https://twitter.com/Ra_THORe/status/1134482676566487041 With more than a month in office, Rijiju has shown his acumen in sports administration and has been shouldering the responsibility from where Col Rathore had left. To assess Rijiju's contribution, there have been several measures he has taken with the pipeline dream plan to make India a sporting country and not merely a sports-watching country.

IOC lifts India's suspension

Soon after assuming office, Rijiju met the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary general Rajeev Mehta to discuss the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) ban on India from hosting global events and increased assistance for athletes. In February, the IOC had suspended all Indian applications to host future events and urged International sports federations not to stage competitions in the country after two Pakistani shooters were denied visas to compete in New Delhi at the World Cup following the Pulwama terror attack. Imposing the suspension, the IOC said the denial of visas was against the principles of the Olympic Charter. It was on June 5, the IOA President Narinder Batra and Ajay Singh, President Boxing Federation of India met Rijiju who understood the issue and assured them support for an early resolution. Within a fortnight, the government gave a written guarantee to the IOA and IOC, stating all eligible athletes will be allowed to participate in events held in the country. The move eventually led the IOC on June 21 to lift its ban on India with immediate effect, paving the way for the country to host international sports events in future.

'Clean and Green' SAI campuses

The newly appointed minister, on June 12, directed all regional Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres to engage in planting saplings of trees specific to their areas inside their campuses as part of a 'Clean and Green' campaign. A circular was issued to all 12 SAI regional centres for the holistic development of a sports campus. The directive pushed the centres to carry out plantation drives to increase the green cover in the campuses and adopt environment-friendly measures like rainwater harvesting for the upkeep of the green cover. It was also decided that waste management systems will be optimised at all SAI centres. Besides, special awareness workshops will also be organised for athletes training and living at the regional centres to teach the principles of Swachh Bharat.

Increase in dietary budget

The Union Minister moved on to announcing an increase in the diet budget of the SAI trainees, senior and junior athletes to bring parity. Till now, the diet budget for SAI trainees, junior athletes and senior athletes were Rs 250, Rs 480 and Rs 690, respectively, which Rijiju increased to make it equal. The move is supposed to impact 12,500 athletes training in various SAI centres, and the sports ministry will release an additional amount to ₹150 crore annually to fund the new diet budget.

Increase in athlete pensions

On July 2, Rijiju announced at the Rajya Sabha an increase in the pension amount of meritorious sportspersons of the country. The move ensured the Olympic and Para Olympic Games medalists will now get a pension of Rs 20,000 per month. The gold medal winners of World Cup and World Champions of Olympic and Asian Games disciplines will also be given a pension of Rs 16,000 per month. Moreover, the silver and bronze medalists at the World Cup in Olympic and Asian Games disciplines will get a pension of Rs 14,000 per month. While the gold medalists of Asian, Commonwealth and Para Asian Games will now be able to get a pension of Rs 14000 per month, the silver and bronze medalists can get a pension of Rs 12,000 per month.

Road ahead

Going by the current state of affairs, for the Union minister, it would be a challenge get shooting included in the Commonwealth Games roster amidst the warning issued by the IOA leaving out of shooting from the games. Rijuju has already confirmed that he would open diplomatic channels to resolve the issue. He assumed office at a time when several National Sports Federations are fraught with management hostilities. The list includes Equestrian Federation of India, Archery Association of India, Gymnastics Federation of India, Rowing Federation of India, Taekwondo Federation of India and also the Indian Golf Union. It would be interesting to watch how Rijiju manages to navigate and whether he pacifies the tensions with his able leadership.
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