[Interview] ‘Salman can’t bring home medals from the Olympics’

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Like Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt is very unhappy about Salman Khan’s selection as brand ambassador for the Rio Olympics. Dutt was in Georgia when the controversy exploded. After he returned to his village Gohana in Sonepat district, Varun Bidhuri tracked him down at Devi Lal Stadium where he is training for the Games. The hall in which athletes train is in fact named after him and Sushil Kumar, a gold-winning wrestler. Here he expresses his anguish about an actor becoming the face of the greatest sporting event of the world. Edited excerpts from an interview.

What do you have to say about Salman Khan’s selection as a brand ambassador for the Rio 2016 Olympics? There are legendary figures in sports who could have been shortlisted but weren’t. Why?
I don’t have any issue with Salman Khan himself. My issue is with IOA. When the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) is selecting an actor as brand ambassador for sports then, they shouldn’t have forgotten that there are players who have become legends in their lifetimes. IOA should not have ignored athletes and players who are also household names because of their achievements in sports. If IOA really want to promote the Olympics, then they should have to picked up one sportsman from each field of sports. My request to IOA please don’t keep the players in last row because Olympics is all about players. If IOA realy wanted a big name, than there is s Sachin Tendulkar. I don’t think there is a bigger name.

Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt.  Photo: Vijay Pandey
Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. Photo: Vijay Pandey

So what is your guess? Why do you think Salman Khan was brought into the Olympics? Will he popularise the Olympics or promote sports?

Listen, let me make it clear, Salman’s selection won’t bring medals to the country. Whether his fans watch Olympics or not will not matter in the end. What India really wants is more medals ­­­— only if we bring home a rich haul will we make Olympics more popular around the nation. If we bring more medals, people will automatically be interested in news about the Olympics and watch the events on television. They will get attached to sports. So I would any day go with sportspersons as brand ambassadors rather than an actor. I request IOA not to ignore players. There are lots of big names in our world. Why were these names not even considered when they were choosing a brand ambassador?

What would you like to say about the manner in which Salim Khan, Salman’s father lashed at legendary sprinter and world record holder Milkha Singh on Twitter? After all, Milkha Singh had only said (and it went viral) that somebody from the field of sports should have been chosen.

Well, I would only reiterate that sportsperson are the real heroes, and no one can get away with saying that we are unknown. If I am wrestler and wrestlers all over the world know me and acknowledge me, it’s a big achievement for me. After watching me, other junior and budding player will learn from us. We will become an inspiration for others, which is a matter of pride for us.
There’s another poignant fact. Bollywood made a movie on athlete Milkha Singh but we all know Milkhaji didn’t earn a single rupee from that movie. And, we shouldn’t forget that he is talented and that’s why a movie was made on him. Bollywood big bucks because of his talent. We have 125 crore population, why Bollywood didn’t bother to make movie on them? Why did they pick Milkhaji? Because of his athletic prowess, which is legendary. He is not just any man on the street. History has recorded his achievements. And Milkha Singh even said in an interview, “They think that by making a film on me they have done me a favour.”

Do you see any politics in the move to introduce Salman as Rio brand ambassador?

I don’t understand politics. But if IOA decides to commission an actor as ambassador and will not have a sports legend standing shoulder to shoulder with him as an ambassador for the Olympics, then I am not okay with it. For me his selection is like Shaadi kisi aur ki, aur dulhaa koi (somebody else is the groom in another person’s wedding).

Salim Khan also wrote, ‘Salman Khan may not have competed but is an A level swimmer cyclist and weight lifter”. What do have to say about this?
The fact is Salman Khan was never a sports player, neither did he play a single tournament for the country. Come to our villages, we all can swim, run and do cycling and weight lifting. It’s not a big deal. The fact is Salman Khan is a big name. He wasn’t selected on fitness. There are lots of people known for their fit bodies. And if fitness was the criterion, why were Shah Rukh and Amitabh Bachchan’s names in the reckoning?

Do you see any connect between Bollywood and sportspersons?
Well, they both have very different worlds. Sportsmen live in a real, very gritty world. There is no acting in sports, no artifice, no replay, and I don’t think they can ‘fake’ anything. When I go for a wrestling match and lose, it doesn’t mean sports authorities will reschedule my wrestling match and give me a chance to play that match again.
No let’s talk about the film industry. Bollywood entertains people. What actors do has nothing to do with national pride. If they don’t get a good shot, they can retake their shots and make a film. I don’t say they don’t work hard, but their world is fake. They earn for themselves. Sure, they have a fan following. But there is another big difference: We sportspersons can walk in other countries carrying the Indian tricolor. We win the right to wave our flag with pride all over the world. An actor can’t do this.
On other hand, we play for the nation, we fight for the nation, what we do is for the nation because the nation’s name has been attached with us. We feel proud when we play for the nation. That is why there is a huge difference between the sports world and Bollywood world. It’s the difference between day and night. One is real and the other one is fake, meant only for entertainment.

If we look around, the world of sports and Bollywood do have some involvement with each other. For example, IPL and Pro Kabaddi league are nowadays run by actors. The corporate sector has come into the picture. So money is coming into sports via Bollywood.

Well, it’s true. I am not denying the fact that though sports people are earning money. These leagues are giving an opportunity to players who couldn’t come up due to lack of opportunity. Some of them belong to slums. They get economic support, they get a chance to showcase their talent. But it’s a fact that people have made it as business and are earning thorough it. In IPL we see big-wigs have purchased teams and now players are associated with them.

Who would be the right person to be a brand ambassador for the Olympics?
Talented persons from various fields of sports cannot be compared but if you are judging on the basis of talent, there is Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, Milkha Singh, who scored when times were hard and there were no facilities provided to athletes, and of course Sachin Tendulkar. We don’t lack sports legends.

Do you think that Salman’s selection would affect the thousands of sportspersons who are struggling to make a name?
No, they are very focused on medals. Increase in number of medals will give them motivation and bring new faces into the Indian arena. The government is doing its best for sports activities. It is spending 1,000 on per child for sports and games. Who is brand ambassador won’t affect them, nor motivate them. Yeah, but if a brand ambassador is a sports legend then they would draw inspiration from such a person. If a child is at the initial stage of learning a sport, he/she would have a role model.

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So what’s your goal in the wrestling?

My dream is to win a gold medal for my country. This is my last Olympics so I want a gold to crown my Olympics career.

If you win gold in the coming Olympics, would you like to marry an actress from Bollywood?
No, never. I want a simple and beautiful housewife, who can look after my household and family. I live in a village. The glamorous life doesn’t suit us.

Do you think there is Intolerance in India?
Well, I don’t think there is intolerance in the country. As a sportsperson, I have traveled through the entire world. I found India is the only country where piece exist.

So what is your opinion about Award Wapsi?
I found Award Wapsi to be a completely misplaced idea. Return of awards should be done for a reason. For example, if wrestling were to be excluded from the Olympics, we would return our medals as a way of pressuring the IOA. Wrestling has given us a name across the world. So we would be fighting for a just cause.

Last, what message would you like to give to the general public?
I would like to suggest that all people should engage in sports activity. This will not only keep them fit and but also build psychological strength and bring a balance in mind. Try to be an Olympics champion. Those who are already in the field, don’t give up, keep up the hard work. I would like to request parents to send your children out to play a sport and maintain physical fitness.