Chandigarh: The controversy over appointment of Salman Khan as goodwill ambassador of the Indian Olympic contingent notwithstanding, hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr today felt involving the Bollywood superstar is a "good idea".
Balbir Singh Sr
"The Olympics is a celebration of sports so I agree with the statement that preference should be given to suitable Olympic icon with achievements and medals at the Olympic level. However, involving Salman Khan is a good idea," the 92-year-old, member of three Olympic gold-medal winning teams, told PTI here.
Salman's appointment has been criticised by some noted sports personalties of the country including wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt and sprint legend Milkha Singh who had raised eyebrows over India Olympic Association's (IOA)'s decision.
Further commenting on the controversy surrounding Salman's appointment, he said, "It is a bitter truth that India doesn't have a sporting culture yet. We only like winners."
"Every sportsperson who has been lucky enough to represent India is a hero. Nowadays, medal winners in the Olympics get recognition but what about the others who have represented India but couldn't win laurels at the Olympics? In the recent past, Bollywood has indeed helped raise the stature of certain sportspersons to larger-than-life levels," Balbir said.
He said to win is the goal of every sportsperson but due recognition is needed to boost their performance.
"This is where Bollywood's popularity can be used to help elevate the stature of sports/sportsperson in general in India, not just around Olympic time," Balbir, who was part of the gold winning teams from 1948 to 1956 Olympics, said.
He pointed out that sportspersons are the "real stars" but fans cheering for them also makes a big difference.
"In my time, Prithviraj Kapoor, B R Chopra, Raj Kapoor and others used to come and cheer us on during our matches.
Indeed, one of my most cherished Olympic memories is of 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, when I was invited to the Olympic Games by the organising committee as a guest of honour. I watched and cheered as our hockey team won gold in the final.
"I would request other known personalities to travel to Rio along with Salman, at their own expense, to support the team as fans and motivate them to do better," he said.
On Salman, Balbir said, "I don't know Salman personally, but if this is a long-term association for the next four years, with non-cricket Olympic sports, his popularity among the masses would be very useful, and additionally, his own stature as a star will make him hard to manipulate."