Report card: How successful was Kiren Rijiju as Sports Minister?
Just 16 days before the Tokyo Olympics, Kiren Rijiju leaves his charge as India's Sports Minister. We try to take a look at his significant contributions in the past two years
At the time of drafting this piece, Kiren Rijiju's Twitter profile still reads "Union Minister of State for AYUSH, Youth Affairs and Sports (Independent Charge). MoS Minority Affairs."
Just 16 days ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the BJP MP of Arunachal West, who was even a week back overseeing India's journey to Japan amid COVID restrictions, was elevated to the cabinet minister rank charge of the Ministry of Law and Justice. He served as the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affairs and Minister of State for Minority Affairs and Ayush portfolios.
Rijiju assumed the role of Sports ministry after the BJP government returned to office for the second term after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the past two years, his name was associated with countless initiatives in Indian sports and also the Fit India movement, a program launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2019 to make fitness an integral part of our daily lives.
A sports and fitness enthusiast himself, Rijiju had been an eloquent supporter of Indian sports and worked for the goal of earning medals at the Tokyo Olympics in double digits. He followed the progress of Indian sportspersons quite closely and made sure that he'd be the first one to wish them on their achievements.
Always active on social media, not only Rijiju promoted content related to the day-to-day happenings of Indian sports, but he also ensured to reach out to those who sought help from him on his handles.
India would cherish his contribution as the Sports and Youth Affairs Minister. Here's a look at some of the most significant steps taken up by the departing minister.
The year 2019 was significant for Indian sports, and as Rijiju was appointed to his office, he could see many of India's bright prospects unfurling their grandest performance.
PV Sindhu became the first Indian to win the Badminton World Championships, G Sathiyan became the first Indian to break into the top 25 in table tennis world rankings, Deepak Punia was named the best junior wrestler in the world in 2019 by United World Wrestling, the shooting team went on a gold spree at the ISSF World Cups, and the list went on.
In no time, Rijiju started honouring every achiever with rewards that led to an impetus in their morale. Rijiju presented Sindhu with a cheque of Rs 10 lakh for winning a gold medal at the BWF World Championships. The minister then announced Rs 7 lakh as a cash prize for World Champion silver medallist Deepak Punia, whereas all the other four bronze medalists wrestles were given Rs 4 lakh.
The Ministry also took the initiative to felicitate the 2019 South Asian Games medal winners in Nepal. India topped the table, winning 312 medals, including 174 gold, 93 silver, and 45 bronze. On their return, Rijiju announced a cash reward of Rs 1.5 lakh for the 174 gold medallists, the silver and bronze winners received Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000, respectively.
In 2020, Rijiju announced a significant hike in the prize money for the National Sports and Adventure Awards. The prize money for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award was increased to a whopping Rs 25 lakh from the previous amount of Rs 7.5 lakh, while Arjuna Award prize money was enhanced to Rs 15 lakh from Rs 5 lakh. The Dhronacharya (Lifetime) awardees, who were earlier given Rs 5 lakh, were hiked to Rs 15 lakh, while Dhronacharya (Regular) winners were given Rs 10 lakh instead of Rs 5 lakh.
Increase in sports budget
Kiren Rijiju, who was appointed in 2019, played a pivotal role in investing a big sum in the sports budget. During his first year of tenure as the Sports Minister, the government allocated Rs 2826.92 crore to the sports budget in 2020-21, which was up by Rs 50 crore from the revised estimates of 2019-20.
The government gave a substantial hike of Rs 291.42 crore to its flagship Khelo India program for the development of sports at the grassroots and youth level as well.
Greater impact through TOPS
The Indian government's flagship program, Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS), which started in 2014, has yielded significant success for India in the last two years as it was used to its fullest potential. Today, 126 athletes/ teams from India are part of the TOPS scheme, and a majority of them have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in disciplines such as archery, boxing, wrestling, athletics, table tennis, hockey, and para-sports.
Rijiju convened timely meetings for TOPS, prioritising India's prospects at the Olympics, and was actively involved in the decision-making of allocating the facility to the players.
Indian athletes have spoken about how the TOPS scheme has helped them excel. With the help of the scheme, athletes are provided with customised training under reputed coaches at institutes having world-class facilities, participation in international competition, purchasing high-quality equipment.
The scheme's effectiveness has produced several medal-winning prospects at the Tokyo Olympics like javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, among others.
With Mr Rijiju at the helm, he had urged corporate India and leading Public Sector Units to come forward and contribute to the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) as part of their corporate social responsibility. The primary goal for this was meeting the needs and requirements of elite athletes supported under TOPS.
Better reach of the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay National Welfare Fund
Since his appointment, Kiren Rijiju took note of improving the financial support under the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay National Welfare Fund For Sportspersons. It was launched in 1982 to assist outstanding sportspersons of yesteryear who lived in indigent circumstances and brought glory to sports.
In 2020, Rijiju announced financial help of Rs 5 lakh each to boxer Sunil Chauhan and his brother Neeraj Chauhan, who is an archer, considering the hardships they were facing after their father lost his job in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry also envisioned the implementation of the 'Scheme of Sports Fund for Pension to Meritorious Sportspersons' for additional support with a lifetime pension between Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 after they retire from active sports careers.
Expansion of the Khelo India Program
The Khelo India Program, which was launched in 2018 to revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level, soared to new heights under Rijiju. The Ministry lent a new direction to the program by setting up the Khelo India State Centres of Excellence (KISCE). In December last year, Rijiju virtually inaugurated eight KISCE in Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Odisha, Telangana, and Nagaland.
In 2020, Rijiju also introduced the Khelo India Winter Games hosted in two venues - Leh and Jammu & Kashmir. Events included snow skiing, snow rugby, snow ice stock, snow baseball, snow mountaineering, snowshoe, ice hockey, figure skating, and speed skating.
To bring further focus on traditional sports, the Ministry also approved the inclusion of four indigenous sports to be a part of the Khelo India Youth Games 2021, which was scheduled to be held in Haryana in 2021. The four new games are, Gatka, Kalaripayattu, Thang-Ta and Mallakhamba.
Extending his arms on social media
Kiren Rijiju took up the responsibility of reaching out to people through his social media pretty seriously. He once had told PTI, "People must be thinking what is the sports minister doing, he is responding to such kind of amateur talk, but I had to show sections which don't know sports that I am hands-on with Indian sports and I am there for the athletes. I will give all the opportunities to all potentials, so I had to show that."
The internet boom in India saw many hidden talents getting viral across the country, who grew to be social media sensations. Kiren Rijiju's attention was drawn to Rameshwar Gurjar's claim that he could run 100 metres in 11 seconds, and on Srinivasa Gowda, the Kambala jockey apparently broke (not technically) sprint legend Usain Bolt's record. Rijiju called up both of them for athletics trials at national camps to show that he was quite serious about Indian sports and would be there for Indian athletes.
Resolving the NSF problems
Today, India has 58 recognised National Sports Federations (NSF), compared to 48 in 2016. When India had fielded competitors in 15 different sports in Rio 2016, only nine of their NSF's were recognised at that moment.
Major disciplines like Archery, Tennis, Boxing did not have their own NSFs, for multiple reasons that led to creating a barrier between the Indian Olympics Association and the federation. The absence of a recognised national federation had dried up funding for the sports.
In the last two years, the MYAS had prioritised the matter at hand and expedited the recognition of all the NSFs, including the 18 sports where India would be fielding athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. The Sports Ministry restored the recognition of the faction-ridden Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) after ten years, taking into record Sudhir Mittal's election as president in the polls held in November 2019.
The recognition was being granted for the period till December 31, 2021. The GFI was de-recognised by the Ministry in 2011 because of infighting in the body. Similarly, after remaining suspended for eight long years, the Archery Association of India (AAI) was granted annual recognition, validating its elections held for new office-bearers on January 18, 2020.
The sports ministry provides significant financial assistance to the NSFs, which in turn strives towards the development of the players and sports. Rijiju also personally wrote to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), asking the body to take responsibility for the athletes if they belong to an NSF that is not recognised by the government or has lost its annual recognition.
Regulate the COVID-19 situation for Indian athletes
The Ministry under Rijiju deputed a maximum additional support staff such as coaches, doctors, physiotherapists to optimise the performance of the athletes in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Amid travel restrictions on India during the second wave of coronavirus, Rijiju often came in the picture to help India's Tokyo-bound athletes with arrangements of training abroad before the Games. Rijiju also ensured the vaccination drive for Tokyo-bound athletes was carried in a "smooth manner".
With Anurag Thakur being announced as the new Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, he will be immediately required to suit up in his fire-fighting role to facilitate the Indian sportspersons in every possible way during the Tokyo Olympics. With a background in sports administration, the former BCCI president would have to ensure he can meet the expectations and even raise the bar set by his fellow predecessor.