The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on Sunday rushed to justify its decision to appoint Bollywood star Salman Khan as the goodwill ambassador of the national contingent for the Rio Olympics after several current and former sports icons criticised the move.
The IOA announced its decision at its headquarters here on Saturday in the presence of the actor and several Indian sportspersons, including five - time World Champion boxer M. C. Mary Kom and Indian men's hockey team captain Sardar Singh.
The move was questioned by several members of the Indian sports fraternity with 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt making his displeasure public with a series of tweets barely an hour after the decision was announced.
"We are very happy and thankful on Salman's offer to support Olympic Sports in this country. This association is only a gesture and does not include any monetary consideration, " IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta said in a statement on Sunday.
According to Mehta, roping in Salman as the ambassador of the Indian contingent is intended to attract more public attention towards Olympic sports in the country by drawing on the Bollywood star's mass appeal and popularity among the youth.
"He is the biggest Bollywood star in the country in terms of mass following and our key objective of bringing him on board is to draw maximum attention from the masses, due to which there will be more eyeballs and viewership which will eventually result in popularizing Olympic sports in the country, " the IOA official asserted.
"We may appoint more icons from other walks of life like music, cricket, art culture and Olympic sports etc. Mr. Salman Khan is only being appointed from 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. P. T. Usha who have the capacity and capability to popularize Olympic sports in the country, " he added.
On Saturday, Yogeshwar criticised the IOA's decision, pointing out that established sports icons like Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha would have been better choices. He also questioned Salman's contribution towards sports in India.
"What is the purpose of an ambassador? Stop fooling the people of this country, " the star wrestler wrote in Hindi on social network platform Twitter barely an hour after the IOA made its decision public.
"PT Usha, Milkha Singh jaise bade sports star hai jinhone kathin samay me desh ke liye mehnat ki. Khel ke kshetra me Es ambassador ne Kya kiya (Big sports stars like PT Usha, Milkha Singh worked hard for the country in tough conditions. What has this ambassador done for sport?), " he added.
Without naming Salman, Yogeshwar also accused the actor of using the Olympic platform to promote his upcoming film 'Sultan'. A sports - drama, the film depicts the struggle of a wrestler as he makes the journey from small town Haryana to success at the international level.
"Kahi bhi ja Kar apni movie ka promotion kare, Es desh me adhikar hai Lekin Olympic movie promotion ki jagah Nahi. (This country gives you right to go and promote your movie anywhere but Olympics is not the place for movie promotion), " he tweeted.
Former athlete Milkha Singh has also lashed out at the IOA's decision.
- - IANS