Appointed Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs a month before the Olympics began at Rio, Vijay Goel has had to hit the ground running. Within days of settling in, he was answering questions about the investigation and intrigue around a doping episode involving the country’s top sports figures. Goel finds himself in the spotlight as the nation gets ready to take its four-yearly stock of Olympic athletes. The leader from Chandni Chowk, for years seen as Delhi’s CM in waiting, will now focus on India’s global medal haul.
Vijay Goel: Though the promotion of sports is primarily a state subject, excellence of sports is a central subject. Our motto is not only to get medals for Olympics and the Commonwealth Games but to provide better facilities. There are three things important to us – competition, talent hunt and infrastructure. This is my dream for sports.
Sandeep Dwivedi: At the last Olympics (London 2012), we had six medals. As minister, what is your estimate of the medal count this time?
Only God can predict that. We are hoping for a good performance from our players because they worked hard. For these Olympics, we gave them customised training, the best of coaches, foreign training and spent a good amount of money to train them.
Sandeep Dwivedi: The PM said that for the next Olympics, we must be better prepared. Does that mean something was lacking in preparations this time?
The good thing is that the PM is taking an interest in sports. He said we have to prepare from now [for Tokyo 2020]. The detailed plan will be unveiled on August 29, National Sports Day. We will pick 1,000 sportsmen and give them customised training. The real preparation should not begin when the Olympics come. We need to start the talent hunt now.
Sandeep Dwivedi: Can you comment on the Narsingh Yadav incident? [Barely 10 days before the start of the Olympics, the wrestler had tested positive for a banned steroid but was later cleared to participate.] Is the government doing something to avoid such scandals?
For me, the image of the country is supreme. If any sportsperson comes back from Rio with a dope taint, it would not be nice. NADA [National Anti-Doping Agency] and its rules are in sync with WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency]. It is a sad incident. Two sportsmen have come under doping charges [Yadav and shot-putter Inderjeet Singh]. Conspiracy is another angle and is a matter of investigation… The anti-doping disciplinary panel said the SAI centre was not at fault. Such incidents happen… how careful can one get?
Sandeep Dwivedi: Did the Prime Minister intervene? Did he ask for the proceedings to be put on the fast track?
Things had to happen fast because if he had to play, the process had to be quick. One test was conducted on June 2, another on June 25, another on July 5. He cleared the June 2 test and was named positive in the June 25 test. He said the effects of the June 25 test affected the July 5 test. The PM has nothing to do with the report. The PM has not spoken to me about any of this.
Ritu Sarin: The PM had said athletes would get as much money as officials for the Olympics. Can you tell us about that?
If you are talking about Rio, there has been no shortfall… we have spent between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 1 crore on athletes…
Vandita Mishra: You said the Prime Minister has been very involved in sports. What has been the nature of his involvement in the Rio Olympics?
Earlier, players would go to the Games, get medals and return. We have tried to connect the Olympics to the common man with programmes such as Run for Rio, Khelo aur Jiyo… the PM welcomed and supported this. We are holding the Under-17 FIFA World Cup in India next year. He announced this on social media and sought comments from people on this… There are many such examples that demonstrate his interest in sports.
Ritu Sarin: Have there been discussions with the PM or in the cabinet on India bidding for the Olympics?
My view as sports minister is that we should support all tournaments. Such tournaments help build infrastructure. We will take lessons from the Commonwealth Games. I would like to hold the Olympics here and we will have to see what infrastructure will be ready before we participate in the bidding.
Sandeep Dwivedi: Does the PM see a connection between sports and nation building?
Sports is a way of life. When we were young, we used to play on the roads. Now there are only cars and playgrounds are shrinking. Grounds are being used for events. I would like to take stock of such grounds and develop them with NGOs… For instance, I would like to involve the corporate world and have them contribute to a national sports fund through CSR (corporate social responsibility) schemes… We are targeting 25,000 schools in 30 cities to promote football. I will talk to football manufacturers to see if they can distribute footballs free of cost.
Mihir Vasavda: The Lodha panel report on reforms in the BCCI had recommended, among other things, legalising gambling and passing of the Sports Fraud Bill, both of which concern your ministry. What are your views on these recommendations?
Gambling and betting are included in the Sports Fraud Bill, which is currently with legal experts. Gambling and betting happen not only in sports, so when the government takes a decision, it will be binding on every field where this happens.
Sandeep Dwivedi: There is another recommendation in the Lodha panel report that says ministers cannot be part of BCCI. What is your view?
I’ll go by the Supreme Court decision. [On July 22, the Supreme Court accepted the RM Lodha panel’s recommendations on BCCI and disqualified ministers and civil servants, and those above 70 years of age, from holding offices in the BCCI.] But I don’t think politicians should be kept out of sports bodies. Today, who runs hospitals? Not doctors, but administrators who have the money, the know-how and the knowledge. Similarly, to run sports federations, all these things are necessary, not just sportspersons.
Sandeep Dwivedi: Do you think the portfolio of the sports minister has gained in importance over the years?
Our country needs the right environment for sports. Earlier, senior secondary schools would be given four acres but that has been reduced to two acres. Why? Because Delhi is expanding and every year, six lakh people come to the city. So the school ground is the first thing that goes. I will try to overturn these decisions so that sports is encouraged. My dream is to construct a sports museum in which the bat, racquet, kits of big players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Sania Mirza are displayed. On August 5, we are inaugurating an Olympic exhibition in Central Park. people come and tell me that their child is very good at sports, I immediately test them to assess how true or untrue their claim is.
Mihir Vasavda: WADA’s report for 2014 says we have the third highest number of athletes who tested positive for doping, behind Russia and Italy. Several countries are looking to make doping a criminal offence. Is that the way forward?
I think banning players and the stigma around it is punishment enough because players tend to become very cautious when one of them is brought to shame. We have very regular and serious doping tests in the country and that has now trickled down to school games and national games.
Vandita Mishra: What do you make of the rift between the Centre and the AAP government in Delhi? Twelve of their MLAs have been arrested so far…
AAP came to Delhi promising development, but travel through Delhi and you will see that the capital is in the pits. These people now want to win the country so they have let go of the city. These people (AAP) have no cadre of their own; they just picked people from other political outfits. They say the BJP is responsible for their MLAs getting arrested. Is there any poof? What they don’t seem to get is that by engaging in loose talk about the PM and his office, their credibility is diminishing in the eyes of the public. In the MCDs, their popularity has fallen by 17%. The only reason they are alive is because of the media. If they have done so much work, then why do they have to promote their advertorials? They went to court and even there they have failed… Are you saying Modi influenced the court’s as well? (On August 4, the high court held that the Lieutenant Governor is the administrative head of Delhi.)
Pragya Kaushika: You have been asking for Delhi students to be given priority in admission to universities and schools.
I have been saying this for the last five years, that those who have passed their Class 12 from Delhi, and that includes whoever has been living in Delhi for the last two years, they should be given priority in admissions. We have asked for three things: first, 85 per cent seats in 12 colleges of the Delhi government should be reserved for students from Delhi. Second, there should be an eligibility test. Third, students who have passed their Class 12 from Delhi should be given four or five per cent concession in the merit list. Initially, when I made these demands, I was alone. After that, AAP supported me and suddenly, Congress also said the same thing. Now let’s see what this government does.
Pragya Kaushika: You are active in Delhi politics despite being a minister at the Centre. Do you see yourself as potential CM?
These things have been said about me and the party has recognised me. Unfortunately, people think you can do something only when you get a position. But for me, my role in the party keeps me going. Whether I am an MP or not, whether I am a minister or not, I keep working. Delhi is my love, I will work for it, I will struggle for it. I am someone who has dreams for Delhi, a vision. But because of politics, it becomes very difficult to implement a lot of things.
I dream of a big building in Delhi — and I have written to the Prime Minister about it — one centre where you will get forms for government schemes. Suppose you to know about some scheme, you walk into this centre, which will have forms for every government scheme. There will be people to fill these forms. There will be a designated officer for each scheme and his name will be provided. Moreover, a call centre should be set up to explain all schemes of the Prime Minister. Say, if I call and ask about a scheme, they have to give me 100 answers for my 100 questions. I am planning and working on a lot of such ideas. It is my good luck that the way I once worked closely with Vajpayeeji, I work with Modiji today.
Anand Mishra: At least thrice, you name made the rounds as a potential CM candidate, but each time, it didn’t materalise. Did you convey your regret or anger to the party?
The Gita says you keep working, do not expect anything in return. People think that it’s the position of the CM that one wants. I do not want that. I want the power to execute things. What power does an MP have today? I have to approach some commissioner or the other to get things done. In order to fulfil my dreams and visions, I need power. Once I get that power, I will be able to execute my dreams. To become a chief minister is not a big thing for me. What is big is that I should have the authority to fulfil those dreams.
Sandeep Dwivedi: You said you have several ideas for sports. The Sports Authority of India, which is very important for the development of sports in the country, is like a relic which needs to be restored. If you compare the facilities at SAI centres or at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, and compare them to any top sports academy in the world, there is a lot of difference. Do you have any ideas to change the situation?
We have asked for a budget of Rs 160 crore for the Sports Authority of India so that we can upgrade all their stadiums.
Sandeep Dwivedi: But these big stadiums are also white elephants and are not very well-maintained. Many of them are also underutilised.
I had sought a report from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Stadium asked them if they have 100 per cent utilisation. They said they do. I told them I will come some morning and look at it myself. So, I have to visit them personally and see. I have to ensure only one thing — its upkeep. And then, I will open the stadium for other activities because I want income from them. Right now, we have rented out some parts of a few stadiums to offices.
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