India’s Rio Olympics contingent on Sunday April 24 appointed actor Salman Khan as goodwill ambassador, and the decision has kicked up a storm of controversy surrounding Khan’s history. The question of whether he deserves the post or not is on everybody’s lips, with the sporting community divided on the issue. Defending the decision, the Indian Olympic Association stated that the Bollywood celebrity is connected with the youth and is known to be more of a sports enthusiast than the other options they were considered, which included Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.
Reacting to his appointment the actor said, “I am honoured that the Indian Olympic Association has chosen me as goodwill ambassador for the Indian contingent for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “It is a matter of great national pride that our athletes are performing better and better at the Olympic Games and I think we should all join hands in giving them every support and cheer for them so that Rio 2016 becomes our best Olympic tally.”
This appointment is the first of its kind featuring a Bollywood celebrity as goodwill ambassador for the Olympics, but it isn’t Khan’s first. In 2009 the actor was selected as brand ambassador of Indian football by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to promote the sport across the country, which didn’t do much for the game’s popularity or growth.
The chorus of criticism
Salman Khan’s notorious reputation precedes him, with violence against women accusations, occasional alcoholism, illegal hunting and the 2002 hit-and-run case making the list. Amongst his questionable history that lacks accountability and transparency, doubt over his selection as goodwill ambassador is not hard to anticipate. One aspect of the negative reaction is sceptical about the motive behind Khan’s appointed, and its relation with his upcoming release ‘Sultan’--a sports drama in which the actor plays a small-town wrestler who rises to international victory.
Several voices of the sports community have stood up against Khan’s appointment. Part of the posse against the decision is London Olympics bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt, who expressed his dissatisfaction via a tweet in Hindi that stated: ‘What is the purpose of an ambassador? Why are you fooling the people of this country?’ The wrestler also questioned what the actor had done in the field of sports to be involved in the Olympics, and said, “The country needs medals, not sponsors.”
Iconic sprinter Milkha Singh’s reaction to Khan’s post was not as anguished or fiery as Dutt’s, but his disdain for the decision was clear, logical and heartfelt. As the 85-year-old stated, “I am of the view that our sportspersons — be those from shooting, athletics, volleyball or other sports — are the real ambassadors of India who would represent the country in the Olympics. Still, if we had to pick an ambassador, it could have been from the sporting arena.” He went on to state that sports persons such as PT Usha, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Ajit Pal and other have given their sweat and blood for the country and could have been suitable for the role of goodwill ambassador. “What was the need to import a person from Bollywood?” he questioned. Singh clarified that he had nothing against Salman Khan, but condemned IOA’s decision, asking for the government to intervene in the matter and revise the appointment.
Former hockey star Dhanraj Pillay joined the chorus of criticism stating, “I would like to see a sportsperson as brand ambassador. We have legendary players such as Milkha Singh, P T Usha, Abhinav Bindra. No doubt Salman is one of the best faces of Bollywood and whatever he says sells. But in sports I feel sportsperson should be ambassador.”
In support of Bhai
A statement by Secretary General of the IOA Rajiv Mehta defended the decision by saying that the actor has been appointed without any monetary compensation, and the objective of the post is to draw maximum attention from the masses to popularise Olympic sports in the country. “Mr Salman Khan is only being appointed from the Bollywood segment and we are in talks with two other big names in music and cricket. We are more than willing to have as many icons including the likes of Ms. Anju Bobby George and Ms. PT Usha who have the capacity and capability to popularise Olympic sports in the country,” he said.
Members of the sports community such as boxer M. C. Mary Kom, hockey captain Sardar Singh, and shooter Apurvi Chandela were present at the announcement, and have extended their support to Khan. London Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom said, “It hasn’t happened before, it’s a good thing for the athletes. It’s good for us to have a brand ambassador like him.” Sardar echoed her sentiment, “Salman has a huge fan base. He has good views on sports and it’s a good thing for Indian sports that he has come on board. A lot of people are getting connected to Olympic sports because of him. (But) People are entitled to their views. I respect their opinion.”
Five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand also responded to the appointment positively, stating, “If the things that the sports people need are addressed, then there is no conflict in having non-sports people participate. In fact, we want everyone to get involved.” Adding to the support, Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra also backed Khan stating that if he can promote the Olympics, it made strategic sense.
The Twitter Army reacts
As in any controversy that floods in the mainstream, especially one juicy enough to involve international sporting, Bollywood celebrities and questionable motives, the Twitter Army has been actively clicking their thumbs at Khan’s goodwill ambassador post. Here’s the best of the snarky, witty, hilarious and heartfelt tweets mocking the decision, with a few that supported Bhai as well.
Salman Khan becomes India’s ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ for the Olympics. Doesn’t Salman need a Goodwill Ambassador for himself? — Sorabh Pant (@hankypanty) April 24, 2016
Haters criticizing Salman Khan for being chosen as Brand Ambassador for Olympics don’t know how Bhai won a match in Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya — Joy (@Joydas) April 24, 2016
Salman Khan announced as the Indian Brand Ambassador for Olympics. YRF slashes Sultan marketing budget by 10 crores. — SnG Comedy (@SnGComedyIN) April 24, 2016
Salman khan to be India’s brand Ambassador at the Olympics, that’s like replacing Aishwarya Rai at the Cannes festival with Hardik Pandya — Gabbbar (@GabbbarSingh) April 24, 2016
Salman Khan to the Indian Olympics contingent: “Aapka Swagat hai Bigg Boss ke ghar main” — Soutrik (@SoutrikDebnath) April 23, 2016
Salman Khan is the ambassador for India at the Rio Olympics
This would only make sense if the Olympics were a Take your shirt off contest — Soutrik (@SoutrikDebnath) April 23, 2016
Khan’s Twitter supporters
Like it or not, it took a Bollywood film to revive & remind the world of Milkha Singh. So show Bollywood & its superstars some respect.
— Ashwin Varde (@ashwinvarde) April 25, 2016
Words: Rhea Almeida