Salman Khan has invited a lot of criticism after being named India’s goodwill ambassador for the Olympics. However, Indian hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr has come out in support of the Bollywood star, insisting his popularity can be used to help elevate the stature of sports in India.
"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.
"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," the 92-year-old, who was the member of three Olympic gold-medal winning teams, told PTI.
Balbir also added that Salman's and Bollywood's, popularity among the masses could be used to raise interest in the game.
"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.
"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,” he added.
Balbir also expressed hope that other stars and well-known personalities will also travel to Rio to support the Indian contingent in their quest for glory.
"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.
"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," he said.