Ahead of assembly polls in 5 states, sports emerges a key poll plank
All the states going to polls later this month are an integral part of the country's sporting map. No one knows this better than politicians.
Elections are due in five assemblies and among issues like unemployment, communalism, and health is, surprisingly, sport.
Every political party contesting in the elections in five states now wants a chunk of India's success in the Tokyo Olympics.
India is a young country and youth are a sizable part of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab. Not coincidentally, all these states have a mark on the country's sporting map.
From promising sports institutes to rewarding Olympic heroes to bringing more sportspersons in the ambit of electoral politics – nothing is off the electoral table.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and a host of smaller parties are in the fray for the 403 seats of Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh saw eight participants in the Tokyo Games. In December, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced for Uttar Pradesh its first water sports complex at Ramgarh Tal in Gorakhpur – a public sector undertaking. The complex is spread over a 5-acre area near the tourist draw of Ramgarh Tal. Facilities like boating, water biking, skiing, etc, are to be available at the complex.
The UP government has also proposed rural sports events in all 75 districts of the state. According to a government spokesperson, mini stadiums are being set up in villages to promote talent.
Then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state and laid the foundation for the Major Dhyan Chand Sports University in Meerut. It is speculated that the university will be equipped with state-of-the-art sports infrastructure in multiple disciplines, at an estimated cost of about Rs 700 crore. Further, it will have the capacity to train 1,080 sportspersons.
Taking a leaf from the Odisha government's support for hockey, the Uttar Pradesh government has adopted the sport of wrestling following medal-winning performances by Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia in the Olympics. The government is expected to pump in Rs 170 crore in infrastructure and support wrestlers until the 2032 Olympics.
Punjab elections will be a four-cornered fight with the BJP and Amarinder Singh duo along with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the AAP looking to dislodge the incumbent Congress government. The elections will be conducted on February 20 instead of the earlier date of February 14.
After Haryana, Punjab sent the second-largest contingent of 15 members to the Tokyo Olympics. The state contributed eight members of the bronze medal-winning Indian men's hockey team. Soon after their heroic return to India, the Punjab Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla had announced the renaming of ten schools after the medal-winning hockey team players from the state. Getting this honour are Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, and Shamsher Singh, among others.
In the run-up to the polls, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi was spotted at a stadium in Mohali trying his hands at hockey, putting on the goalkeeper's kit and stopping fast-paced balls coming his way. Channi, who made a surprise visit to the international hockey stadium in Mohali, spent about an hour on the field and also met players – an event which was covered with gusto by local media.
Along with the men's hockey team players, 10 other sportspersons from Punjab were felicitated by the state government for their performances in the Tokyo Olympics. A total of Rs 28.36 crore was handed to them and jobs were promised to the medallists.
Hockey team skipper Manpreet Singh was also promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police from his earlier DSP rank.
A month before the elections, Punjab Sports and Youth Services Minister Pargat Singh sanctioned a grant of Rs 23 lakh for Raizada Hans Raj Badminton Stadium. The grant is supposed to be used for various works in the stadium as part of its upgrade. It includes installation of a new synthetic court, renovation of the hostel rooms, thereby making them air-conditioned, besides expansion of the gymnasium and installation of modern machinery in it.
The Uttarakhand Assembly election 2022 will be held in a single phase on February 14. This time, the Uttarakhand Assembly polls are likely to witness a three-cornered fight among the ruling BJP, the Congress led by Harish Rawat, and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party.
The ruling BJP is fighting the Uttarakhand elections under the leadership of Pushkar Singh Dhami. The AAP has projected retired Colonel Ajay Kothiyal as its CM face.
In April last year, the state inaugurated its first Water Sports and Adventure Institute in Koti Colony at Tehri. The institute was opened to impart training in many adventure sports including paragliding, para motor, parasailing boat, scuba diving, hot air balloon, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, gumming, rappelling and all-terrain bikes.
Then, in a first of its kind move, the state cabinet gave a nod to the Sports Policy-2021, which aims at scouting young talent and better infrastructure for them. According to the policy, a physical and sports aptitude test will help find young talent, starting from the age of 8.
In December, wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant was appointed the brand ambassador of Uttarakhand to promote sports and create mental health awareness among the state's youth.
Indian women's hockey team player Vandana Katariya was made the brand ambassador of the state's Department of Women Empowerment and Child Development. A cash reward of Rs 25 lakh was also announced for Katariya who played an intrinsic role in taking India to its historic semi-final stage of the Olympics.
The Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami also felicitated Indian shuttler Lakshya Sen for his breakthrough performance at the BWF World Championship in December 2021 in Huelva in Spain.
The Goa elections, which will be held on February 14, are likely to get heated as the ruling BJP looks to retain power against challenges from the Congress, debutantes Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the AAP.
The coastal state is known for its thriving sports culture which has particularly lent a pool of talent to Indian football.
In December 2021, a statue of Portuguese football great Cristiano Ronaldo was installed in the state capital of Panaji, with the objective of "inspiring the youth and taking football to the next level in the state and country."
"This is for the first time that the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo has come up in India. This is nothing but to inspire our youth. If you want to take football to another level, then this is what young boys and girls will look forward to, taking selfies and looking at the statue and getting inspired to play," Goa minister Michael Lobo told ANI.
The state government also approved the application of young footballer Shameek Vas under the Sports Authority of Goa's scheme for 'Achieving Excellence in Sports at International Level' to train in Barcelona, Spain. Shameek will receive a grant of Rs 30 lakh from SAG through the Goa Football Association.
In order to appeal to the sports-loving youth of Goa, sportspersons are in demand. Brahmanand Shankhwalkar and Bruno Coutinho—both former India football team captains and Arjuna award winners were targets of TMC. Footballer Denzil Franco and boxing official Lenny da Gama joined the party, along with former India midfielder Alvito D'Cunha and 18-time tennis Grand Slam champion Leander Paes.
Congress, meanwhile, convinced Ranji Trophy cricketer Avdhoot Amonkar to join their party. Political observers say getting sportspersons on board is good for a party's brand-building but provides no guarantee of electoral success.
The 60-member Manipur Assembly will go to the polls in two phases on February 27 and March 3. The six-party combine, including Congress, CPI, CPM, Forward Bloc, RSP & JD(S) is to fight under the banner of the Manipur Progressive Secular Alliance (MPSA), against the ruling BJP.
Manipur has been a powerhouse of Indian sports producing two Olympic medallists from the state. After Mary Kom in 2012, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu found glory after she won the silver medal in women's 49kg weightlifting event at the Tokyo Olympics. Just a month before the elections, Chanu was formally given charge as additional superintendent of police (sports) in the Manipur police department. Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, in the presence of the family members of Mirabai and other well-wishers, received the star weightlifter and handed over a cheque of Rs 1 crore as cash reward in a state-level facilitation function in Imphal.
In a first, the state government also provided financial assistance of Rs 3 lakh each to 15 football clubs participating in the Manipur State League.
CM Singh, a former footballer, who handed over the amount at a function held in his office complex, said he has personally experienced how difficult it is to run a sports club and bring it up to the state or national level.
Singh's government has also promised multiple Khelo India Centres.