There has been a lot of hoopla recently regarding Salman Khan’s appointment as goodwill ambassador for India for the Rio Olympics. Brand ambassadors, celebrity endorsers, goodwill ambassadors etc. Whenever I hear these words, I am reminded of the marketing group project days of my MBA. Whenever we had to decide for the brand ambassador for any product or service, the choices that we finalized seemed so clichéd that it was borderline cringe worthy. Bollywood celebrities are typically the first set of people who come to mind whenever we think of ambassadors. Along with Bollywood, Cricket would probably be the other most popular field when it comes to celebrities being ambassadors for a product. Almost every other television ad these days has either Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Virat Kohli or M.S Dhoni in them. Bollywood and cricket in our country are almost treated like two religions and their stars are worshiped as idols.
Bollywood and Cricket had decided in 2007 that joining hands would be a great win-win situation for both the parties. The end-product was something called IPL that has been wooing audiences and will complete 10 years in 2017. Despite all the controversies and decline in viewership over the years, the event has survived and will probably continue to thrive. 3 of the 8 IPL teams in the initial edition in 2007 were owned by Bollywood celebrities. One of them, Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by Shahrukh Khan struggled in its initial years to get any positive results in the field but was still among the most profitable teams around despite its on-field debacles. This further re-iterated the fact that Bollywood and Cricket was going to be an unbeatable combination which will entertain the country for the coming years. Gradually the concept of leagues started going into other sports as well. As of today, we have leagues for the sports of football, hockey, badminton, kabaddi, wrestling etc. Most of them haven’t reached the magnitude of their cricket counterpart but still have made a successful start. The soccer league called as Indian Super League has owners of different teams comprising of many Bollywood celebrities like Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan and its popularity is on the upswing. We have even seen Salman Khan in the promos of Pro Kabaddi league and as a neutral viewer it certainly attracts me if I see a familiar face promoting a sport that does not have the recognition as some of its counterparts in terms of audience viewership.
Now coming back to the issue of Salman Khan’s appointment as the ambassador, my first reaction to the appointment was that it would be a perfect platform for Salman Khan to promote his upcoming movie Sultan where he plays the role of a wrestler. I am an active follower of most sports but my first instinct to this appointment was that this would not give any benefit to the sports-persons who will be giving their best to bring laurels to the country. But then, I realized even for someone like me who follows sports actively, I can hardly recollect the names of any Indian wrestler except Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, the latter of whom has openly criticized the appointment of Salman as the goodwill ambassador in Twitter. Dutt has received support from sporting quarters in the form of Milkha Singh who have also advocated that a sportsperson should be a goodwill ambassador instead of a Bollywood celebrity who has no connection with sports. The counter points put up in the form of several tweets by Salman’s father Salim Khan are laughable and stupid to say the least (Both Salman and his father Salim seriously need a good digital public relations team to handle their twitter handle to save us from their obnoxious tweets). In one tweet, Salim Khan has attributed Milkha Singh’s ticket to fame to the fact that a movie was made on him by Bollywood and in another he has glorified the sporting credentials of his son regarding why he is the perfect fit for the role. The reasons given by Salman’s father definitely do not do any justice as to why Salman should be the goodwill ambassador but I feel if the intentions of both IOA and Salman Khan are right, this appointment can be a win-win situation for both.
All of us remember Chak De India and the impact that it had on hockey and just sports in general. Even after so many years we still hear its title song being played in hockey tournaments where India takes part. Also, who can forget the song reverberating at the Wanderers stadium when India won the inaugural T-20 Cricket World Cup. The marriage of Bollywood and Sports works like magic in India in garnering eyeballs and all of us would definitely be in agreement over the fact that we need Olympic sports in India need to get more eyeballs. If it needs a Bollywood celebrity to do that, then so be it. If it means that many deserving ex and current Indian sportsmen miss out on being the goodwill ambassador, then let it be. It is a small price to pay for making sure that there is enough awareness about Olympic sports in the country.
Team India had a decent outing in 2012 Olympics winning 6 medals (2 silvers and 4 bronze). This year the target should be to double that tally or at least reach double digits and win a couple of gold medals as well. Like last time, our medal hopes would again hinge on sports like shooting, wrestling, badminton, boxing, archery, lawn tennis, archery etc. It is not a co-incidence that 3 or 4 of the sports listed above have their own professional leagues in the country now with a lot investment from Bollywood celebrities who act as team owners. We have had 2 super hit movies made in Bollywood on 2 national sports icons, Milkha Singh and Mary Kom.
Hence, as long as the intention of IOA and Salman Khan are correct and both contribute their best and fulfill their responsibility in creating awareness about the event and Olympic sports in general, I don’t see why the appointment of Salman should be a problem. In the midst of all this, if his movie gets promoted, then it shouldn’t be made out as an issue. Who knows, maybe the movie Sultan would have the same effect on wrestling as Chak De India had on hockey. Our next Sushil Kumar or Yogeshwar Dutt might just be inspired to take up wrestling as a career after watching the movie. Yes, Salman Khan does have a tainted past but he has done his fair share of goodwill towards the society as well. Whether that goodwill was done to mitigate the effects of his tainted past is a different story altogether.
Salman Khan might be the figurative goodwill ambassador for India but in reality each athlete representing India should be a goodwill ambassador for us. They will be representing this proud country of ours in a global platform watched by billions. The fact that they have reached there despite the lack of infrastructure and the adversities faced by non-cricketing sports persons in India itself shows their perseverance and dedication to follow their passion and fulfill their dreams. So, let’s not shift the focus away from the hard work put in by our athletes who have qualified for the Olympics by arguing over this mundane topic about which sphere should the goodwill ambassador be from.
Let us all resolve our indifferences and stand by the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius. Translated to English, it means “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” But, we should also remember that it stands for the ideal of striving to be better not only in sports but also as human beings.