India’s 2016 Rio Olympics contingent recently appointed actor Salman Khan as the goodwill ambassador, and unsurprisingly this has kicked up a myriad of controversy and uproar. 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 considered, which included Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.
There are a number of issues people have expressed with this decision, starting with, why specifically Salman? A running joke on social media at present is the fact that this announcement happens to overlap with the actor’s upcoming release Sultan, where he plays a professional wrestler. The allegation being that it coincidentally serves as great marketing for the film. No doubt, his role as a wrestler must have played some part in the decision to appoint him, but it is unlikely to be as significant as many people are making it out to be. It is a fact that he’s one of the three reigning Khans of the industry, 2 of which happen to be doing a professional wrestling based film this year (Aamir Khan in the upcoming Dangal). So the Sultan factor may not be the big conspiracy that many people are alleging. Salman Khan was likely appointed because he’s Salman Khan and he has the masses.
Then there’s the issue of the statement it makes to appoint the man himself, one who has a messy reputation of crime and controversy, most recently of which saw him being found innocent of manslaughter. While it is not for me to speculate as whether he is or isn’t guilty, it cannot be denied that the coloured activities of his past, make him a highly controversial choice. It does beg the question of why didn’t they instead reach out to another from our vast bucket of stars to choose from? What statement is our Olympics contingent making by having such a figure represent us globally? It could also be argued that given the Olympics is a global event, they should have elected a more globally renowned ambassador. Salman’s ‘massy’ appeal is far more rooted within the nation. In that respect, a Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan is a great deal more internationally reputed and recognised.
And then we have the final popular point of contention with this decision, and definitely the most interesting: Why do we even need a Bollywood based ambassador to serve as goodwill ambassador for the Olympics? Why is there a need at all to have Bollywood involved in a global sporting event? The fact is it’s a sad reality that our nation’s attention span functions almost exclusively on Bollywood. Cinema drives the country. Whether it be an election, a charity, a social cause or event, it does not get our attention till someone from Bollywood is attached. Entire non-film industries are based on and around the mammoth of Bollywood including our fashion, reality TV, music, advertisement, and the recent addition of the IPL, to name but a few. It’s not really a worthy cause or genuine thing worthy of our attention unless Bollywood is involved in some way.
The fundamental question here is: Is it right to have a film star, unrelated to the field of sport, serve as an ambassador for the Olympics. The anger being that the sporting stars themselves like Mary Kom, should suffice and be the symbols of our nation. But it is an unavoidable reality that sports which aren’t cricket, are not given the necessary attention in our country, far from it. By attaching a film star to the Olympics, it will get a great deal more importance and do more to bring sports into the national discussion. This is a fact that has to be accepted because this is just how our society functions today. However, I believe these are very early days of the nation encouraging sport as it should, and one day I do believe a Mary Kom or a Saina Nehwal will be considered far bigger stars and national icons than they are today, and on that day we won’t require a massy, crowd-pulling film star. Till then it is a necessary step to take. If this is what it takes for society to give more importance to a vital issue then so be it.
I do however think they should have been delicate and sensible on their choice of ambassador. And rather than opting for arguably our most controversial actor, why not go for a star who has always been a strong proponent of encouraging sport in the nation. Ranbir Kapoor (football), John Abraham (football), and Abhishek Bachchan (kabbadi) are all owners of sports teams and have done a lot to encourage sports in the last few years. My personal vote on the matter would have been for Deepika Padukone, one of our biggest stars and one who has always been the strong voice for encouraging and stressing on the importance of sport in the nation.
In the end, the involvement of Bollywood is something we must make peace with and a necessary evil. However I do dream of the day Salman Khan won’t draw in the masses, Mary Kom will.