Addressing the inaugural event virtually, Modi said the Commonwealth Games scam demonstrated the approach of the previous government towards sports.
The scam surfaced during the tenure of the Congress-led UPA II government in 2010.
“Earlier, no attention was paid to the development of sports. It was considered that sports are a means only to spend spare time. But today, I am happy that the perception of society and parents has changed in the country,” the prime minister said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Anurag Thakur were among those present at the event.
This year, the Khelo India University Games are being held from May 25 to June 3 in Uttar Pradesh. Over 4,750 athletes from more than 200 universities will be competing in 21 sports. The competitions will be organised in Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Lucknow and Gautam Buddha Nagar.
Modi said 4,000 athletes taking part in the games have come from different states and regions and welcomed them as a Member of Parliament from the state.
He expressed delight that the closing ceremony of the event will take place in Varanasi which is his Parliamentary constituency.
Observing the importance of organising the third edition of the games when India is celebrating ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, Modi said the event has become an excellent medium to inculcate the spirit of ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ along with team spirit.
Modi said in the last nine years, a new era of sports started in India which is not just about making India a big power in sports but also empowering society through the medium of sports.
The PM recalled the earlier period of indifference when sports did not get the requisite support from the governments. This made it extremely difficult for the poor, middle class and rural children to excel in sports. As a result, several parents ignored sports as it had limited scope as a career, Modi said as he underscored the “huge change” in attitude towards sports among parents.
“Sports is now being viewed as an attractive profession and Khelo India Abhiyan has played a big role in that,” he said.
He also talked about the “lack of sincerity” towards schemes like Panchayat Yuva Kreeda and Khel Abhiyan, which was later renamed as Rajiv Gandhi Abhiyan, launched during the Congress regime as he lamented the absence of sports infrastructure before the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014.
“All this is changing”, he said.
Regarding urban sports infrastructure, the PM said previous governments spent just Rs 300 crore in six years whereas under ‘Khelo India’, Rs 3,000 crore has been spent on sports infrastructure, making it easier for more athletes to take up sports.
He expressed satisfaction that about 30,000 athletes have participated in the Khelo India Games so far out of which, 1,500 are getting financial assistance.
The budget for sports has seen a three-fold rise compared to nine years ago. He said even the rural and remote areas have better sports infrastructure now.
Modi informed that the National Educational Policy has proposed to take sports as a subject where it will become a part of the curriculum, and the construction of the country’s first National Sports University will further strengthen the cause.
In states, the PM informed, efforts are being made towards sports-specialised higher education.
He said Uttar Pradesh is doing a very commendable job and gave the example of the Major Dhyan Chand Sports University in Meerut while highlighting that 1,000 Khelo India Centres are being established all over the country.
He informed that around 12 National Centres of Excellence have been made functional where support is provided for training and sports science support to improve performance.
“Khelo India has also restored the prestige of India’s traditional sports,” the prime minister said as he highlighted the scholarships provided by the government to encourage various indigenous sports like Gatka, Mallakhamb, Thang-ta, Kalaripayattu and Yogasan.
Noting the encouraging result of the increased participation of women in the ‘Khelo India’ programme, Modi informed that Khelo India Women’s League is being organised in several cities of the country.
“About 23 thousand women athletes of different age groups have participated in it so far,” he said.
The prime minister also noted the large participation of female athletes at the Khelo India University Games and conveyed his best wishes to them.
“India’s progress lies in your talent, your progress. You are the future champion,” the prime minister remarked as he underlined that it is the responsibility of the athletes to take the glory of the tricolour to new heights.
Speaking about sportsmanship and team spirit, the prime minister wondered if it is just limited to accepting defeat and victory, and teamwork.
“A winner becomes a great player only when he always follows the spirit of sportsmanship and dignity. A winner becomes a great player only when society takes inspiration from his every conduct,” the prime minister said, according to a statement.
The university games are part of various schemes launched by the government to support budding sportspersons and efforts have been put in to strengthen the sports ecosystem in the country.
The mascot of the games is named ‘Jitu’, which represents Swamp Deer (Barasingha) – the state animal of Uttar Pradesh. The closing ceremony of the games will be held in Varanasi on June 3.