Earlier this week, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) made news by deciding to appoint Bollywood superstar and popular actor Salman Khan as the goodwill ambassador for the contingent of athletes representing India at the 2016 Rio Olympics. While the IOA is likely to appoint other such goodwill ambassadors in the run up to the Rio Olympics, the announcement of Salman’s appointment was one of the earliest and was made at an event at the IOA headquarters. Apart from Salman himself, the event was attended by a number of eminent Indian sports stars including MC Mary Kom, Sardar Singh, Deepika Kumari, Ritu Rani, Manika Batra, and Apurvi Chandela.
Criticism from Sporting Fraternity
Salman’s appointment as India’s Olympics goodwill ambassador has drawn some serious criticism from a number of sportspersons. Most of them oppose the IOA’s choice over eminent sports personalities. Indian wrestler and Olympic champion Yogeshwar Dutt was quite vocal about his displeasure at the appointment. Dutt believes that the decision was tacit promotion for Salman’s upcoming film, Sultan, where he plays an impoverished wrestler.
Legendary athlete Milkha Singh also came out in staunch criticism against Salman’s appointment. He said, “I want to make it clear that I am not against Salman Khan, but the decision of the IOA is wrong and the Government should intervene in the matter. This is for the first time I am seeing a Bollywood hero being made goodwill ambassador for Olympics. I want to ask has Bollywood ever made any sportsperson an ambassador for any of their mega event?”
Former hockey star Viren Rasquinha joined in with a tongue-in-cheek tweet suggesting that he would be a great brand ambassador for an upcoming movie’s promotion. “I want to be the brand ambassador for Housefull 3”, he said on the microblogging platform.
Olympic gold medalist Gurbax Singh Sandhu also seems to be of the opinion that the role of an Olympics goodwill ambassador should go to a sporting legend and not to a Bollywood star.
IOA Counters Criticism
Despite the scathing criticism, the IOA seems firm in its decision. The organisation believes that bringing in an actor celebrity of Salman’s stature will get Indian sports the attention of millions across the nation. Defending the decision the IOA said “He is the biggest Bollywood star in the country in terms of mass following and our key objective of bringing him on board is to draw maximum attention from the masses, due to which there will be more eyeballs and viewership which will eventually result in popularising Olympic sports in the country”.
The IOA’s stand is in sync with a number of sports celebrities from India who have supported Salman Khan’s appointment as India’s goodwill ambassador at the Olympic Games 2016.
Eminent boxer Virendra Singh said that Salman’s outreach and following make him perfect for the role. Saina Nehwal, India’s badminton star also echoed the sentiments in her tweet, “Perfect brand ambassador of Indian contingent for Rio Olympics. Good to see him encouraging sports…”
Stalwart shooter and Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra also lent his support to Salman. “Dear @BeingSalmanKhan, am sure you will use your tremendous goodwill to help Indian Olympic Sport and Olympic athletes in their pursuit towards excellence”, he tweeted.
While the sports world is deeply divided in terms of its reactions towards India’s new Olympics goodwill ambassador, Bollywood has come out unequivocally in support of Salman Khan. Kirron Kher who is a leading politician apart from being an actress said, “Any eminent personality who inspires us can be a brand ambassador. I welcome the decision”. Salman’s father Salim Khan who is a senior screenwriter defended his son. “Salman Khan may not have competed but is an A level swimmer cyclist and weight lifter. Sportsmen are performing because of sports lovers like us”, he wrote. Hema Malini, Indian MP from BJP, also backed the IOA’s decision. “People love him so much. So, if he is the brand ambassador, what is the problem”, she said.
Playing a professional wrestler is not Salman Khan’s only association with sports. He has had a history of being involved in various sports ventures. There have been unconfirmed reports of his links with FC Pune City, the Indian Super Football League franchise. Salman has also been a regular face in various Indian Premier League (cricket) and Pro-Kabaddi league matches.
Salman Khan’s celebrity status, his mass appeal, his fan base are all undeniable. Critics, however, have been questioning IOA’s decision to choose Salman Khan, given that the actor has remained mired in controversies over the past few years. Despite having been acquitted by the courts in the hit-and-run case, many remain unconvinced of his innocence. The actor still faces appeal in the poaching (of an endangered black buck) case.
While one does stop to wonder if the IOA couldn’t have been more judicious in its choice, this is not the first time Bollywood has stepped in to represent India in the world of sports. In 2010, actor Akshay Kumar was a torchbearer at the Winter Olympics and in 2012, superstar Amitabh Bachchan carried the Olympic flame through London.
As expected Indian Twitter users took turns criticizing and supporting Salman Khan’s new role as India’s ambassador at the Olympics. But there have been a number of jokes and funny tweets about the issue that have broken up the serious and somber atmosphere as well.
@lolindian : “Salman Khan deserves to be the brand ambassador for Cricket. Nobody does hit and run better than him. #Salman #SalmanForRio #SalmanRioRow”
@iSwarnendu: “I support the decision of making #SalmanKhan Olympic ambassador. BHAI has unmatchable talent in shooting, hitting & running.”
@Vibhir “Next what Priyanka Chopra awarded bronze medal as she played MaryKom.”
Abhinav Bindra joins Salman as Goodwill Ambassador for Rio Olympics
After stirring up a controversy by naming Salman Khan as a Goodwill Ambassador, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) appointed Beijing Olympics gold medalist and ace shooter Abhinav Bindra as India’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Rio Olympics. The IOA had also approached batting legend Sachin Tendulkar to be the Goodwill Ambassador but no response has come yet.