Sometime late in April this year, the Indian Olympic Association dug itself into a hole when it appointed Salman Khan as the nation's Olympic ambassador for the Rio Olympics.
Understandable outcry ensued from all quarters of civilized society, and understandable defence sprung up for the star from that most dim-witted and self-obsessed bunch – the Bollywood fraternity. No one really understood the notion behind appointing a misogynistic, over-rated star, who attends equal number of court sessions as movie shoots.
N Ramachandran, brother of the infamous N Srinivasan and head of the Olympic Association, after many futile defences of the star, came up with an ingenious plan to divert the bad press – Voila! We had three respectable people who joined as goodwill ambassadors in Abhinav Bindra, Sachin Tendulkar, and AR Rahman. The author's evident abhorrence for Bhai aside, a dispassionate, okay maybe, an almost dispassionate, assessment of the good work or the lack of it by the four Olympic ambassadors appeared a good exercise when the Olympics are a week away.
Three ambassadors out of the four, except AR Rahman, visited members of the Olympic contingent in person at different times to express their support and excitement with the squad. However, it is understandable that it was just one occasion because it would be impossible to gather so many athletes amid their busy training schedule. Hence, a proxy is needed to measure their evaluation and what better than social media support in this age? We looked at their Twitter and Facebook posts – the number, frequency, and the timing of each of these.
Some criteria we used to filter the posts were :
1. Given Facebook posts were a subset of the tweets, we decided to do away with the FB posts and compare only tweets.
2. Given Bindra is a participant at the Olympics himself, only tweets that pertained to the entire contingent or to other athletes were considered.
3. Only posts from the time when each was announced as Olympic ambassador were considered.
Interesting! It appears, despite all the hue and cry, that Salman has been the best of the lot, that too by a mile. Religiously, everyday, tweets appeared on his Twitter handle about athlete after athlete with a brief description of each and the hashtag #MakeIndiaProud. Sachin, not to be left behind, had a cool video of the athletes, each with an intro and a finale “RioTiranga” speech.
Looking past the gloss though and taking not much away from their efforts, it appears that the effort was more from the background team than both stars themselves. Salman's team, for instance, had the same generic template – Determined-looking photo of athlete. Check. #MakeIndiaProud hashtag. Check. Wikipedia profile of three lines. Check. Some lackey in the team to put out said poster at same time everyday. Check.
Sachin, though, had put in creditable personal time with the shooting of the intro and the inspirational ending, and the team had taken the effort to interview each of the athletes and bring out their personal stories.
Now on to a rating of each person in no other order than alphabetical!
India's Gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics took his job quite seriously. Although his tweets were less than the other two, each of them was a personal tweet. He thanked the PM when for the first time, there was a personal send-off, in good spirit, he requested Sushil to set aside differences and support Narsingh, and wrote that he would personally write to every member of the Rio-bound team to offer his help if needed.
On top of it all, he personally visited the Indian boxers at Baku, Azerbaijan fighting for the last of the Olympic berths and cheered from the sidelines. Post the visit, he sent out a request to the boxing authorities to clear up the mess that Indian boxing has become, which not many playing Indian athletes would have the grit to do. True ambassador of the sport!
Rating : 10/10
Rahman appears to have been an unwilling ambassador. Pulled in to balance the odds, he was pretty late to the party as well. After supporting a funding campaign for swimmer Bhakti Sharma, he wrote a philosophical message to all the athletes at Rio last week on his Twitter handle bringing out his personal experience of achieving what was considered impossible and wishing them the best.
Rating : 3/10
One of the greatest sportsmen the nation has seen, Sachin sure was a great choice for inspiring his fellow athletes who have had to overcome bigger odds in the quest for glory. He, definitely, was a better ambassador than he was a Rajya Sabha member. With personal messages once in a while to the athletes including Saina Nehwal after her Australian Open win and to Dipa Karmakar, Sachin and team had put in an inspiring set of videos with 10+ athletes. The Master also personally visited the contingent before their departure cheering them on in one of their biggest journeys.
Rating : 8/10
Not bad by his standards, he did visit the athletes not just once but twice. Evidently some of them were starstruck, and his social media team did a passable job of churning out colorful copy+paste posters day after day. But that's where it ends.
The media should have done the same when Sachin and Rahman were roped in. Why didn't that happen? Why didn't the media give them the same coverage that they gave me? In their case too, while one isn't a sportsperson, the other has only played one sport. Does Rahman need a state level certificate or a national-level medal to be called a sportsperson?
Bhai firstly went and shot his mouth at the other ambassadors. While deciphering complex social situations like “how to deal with women” are out of his capacity, shooting your fellow messengers is quite a bad move. Especially when you take offence with the 'God of Cricket' for being a one-sport wonder. But, how does one expect him to understand that invariably all sportsmen play only “one sport” when he thinks he can win “Gold in walking if only it was an Olympic sport”.
Additionally, being Salman, he went and made that sexist or absolutely normal (depending on whether you are a fan or not) statement about rape and got himself almost disqualified from being Olympic ambassador. However, as usual he got away with a gentle rap on the knuckles.
Amid all this, Sania Mirza, India's Olympic hope in mixed doubles, chose Salman as one of the few to release her autobiography. One is left to wonder at the hypocrisy after her upholding of women's rights against one of India's prominent journalists on television.
Lastly, the most interesting observation – Salman's activity can be divided thus – pre-Sultan and post-Sultan.
While it is understandable as he has been busy with celebrating the acquittal from the black buck case and opening new Being Human stores, the numbers do speak the obvious.
Rating : -2/10
That leaves one with the parting questions:
1. Should a role as prestigious as the Olympic ambassadorship be treated as a marketing opportunity like 'Comedy nights with Kapil', mutually beneficial as it may be?
2. Should we set a higher standard in our support to our athletes before we set Olympic standards for them?
3. Should we set a higher standard for the men who govern our sport before we expect our name to start appearing in the middle if not the higher rungs of the Olympic tally?Who do you think should not have been an Olympic Ambassador ? in Sportscafe.in's Hangs on LockerDome