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October 18, 1999


The Rediff Sports Interview/ Milkha Singh

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'I am willing to take up responsibility provided it does not come with strings'

Flying Sikh Milkha Singh is an angry man. He is upset with the Amateur Athletics Federation of India. He alleges that the AAFI treats him like dirt and does not even bother to inform him of national and international meets taking place in the country.

"Who are Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot? Have they ever run one metre in their lives?" he asks while launching a verbal assault on all who wield power in the AAFI. Even national coaches are not spared. With the exception of Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh and P T Usha, everyone else gets the stick.

Milkha Singh spoke to Onkar Singh at the Delhi Golf Club, where people gathered to congratulate him on his son Jeev's triumph in the Lexus international golf tournament in Bangkok yesterday.

Why is India not faring well in international athletics competitions?

After P T Usha, and now Paramjit Singh and Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, there is no athlete worth mentioning

Doesn't it worry you?

Well, honestly it does worry me a lot. Till date, only four athletes have done India proud on the international circuit. In 1960, at the Rome Olympics, it was Milkha Singh who did India proud and held the Indian tricolour afloat. Later it was Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh and P T Usha who kept the Indian challenge alive in international meets. Since I have had the opportunity of representing India in international competitions, I feel sad about the way the Amateur Athletics Federation of India is being run by the present set of officials. Do you know that I get to know about the meets which are held in India after the meets are over, or midway through, only once the media starts covering them. The officials do not even have the courtesy to inform me about the latest in athletics. Milkha Singh is simply ignored. Maybe, they don't want me around, lest I will point out their mistakes or criticise them for one thing or the other. But I don't care. I stay away from the scene and let them carry on the way they want to.

But have you ever written a letter to the Prime Minister or sports minister and expressed your views?

I have written to sports ministers a number of times. Each time the minister concerned promises to do something but nothing happens. I have not written to the Prime Minister. Maybe, I should.

How does one improve the Indian athletic scene?

My opinion is that the Indian athletics scene cannot improve until or unless we have coaches on contract basis. I know Indian coaches are upset with me for advancing this theory, but this is true. Some one has to take the responsibility and do the job for the country.

Are you willing to take up the responsibility? Your critics says that you have not contributed anything; you only keep criticising others...

Milkha Singh is not one of those who would just sit back and enjoy the fame. I have done enough for Indian sports. Lala Amarnath's two sons Mohinder and Surinder Amarnath are products of our sports school. Surjit Singh, the hockey player, was also a product of our sports schools. In the last two decades when I was Director Sports, Punjab, we must have produced dozens and dozens of sportsmen and sportswomen who represented India in international competitions. This is Milkha Singh's contribution to Indian sports. Yes, I am willing to take up responsibility provided it does not come with strings, and am given a free hand to hire and fire coaches both from India and abroad.

You had announced a prize of Rs 2 lakhs for any Indian athlete who broke your 45-second barrier in the 400 metres. Though Paramjit Singh did break your record, you refused to give him the sum. Why?

This is not true. I read in the newspapers that Paramjit Singh had broken my record in a meet in Calcutta. I did congratulate him and wished him all the success. I even invited him for a cup of tea at my residence in Chandigarh. I told him that I was willing to give him half the money on the spot and the rest once he proved himself in international meets. But he did not respond at all and in fact failed to show up at a function organized by me at the Press Club of Chandigarh the next day. I know how records are made in India? If he was good enough he would have accepted my offer and proved that he had broken my record by clocking the same time in an international meet. Where is he now? He did not take part in the World Athletics Championships; he did not show up in the international athletic meets held in New Delhi recently. If he is good enough he should be running in meets and not sitting back at home. My offer still stands. But it has to be achieved in my lifetime.

Some people say that P T Usha is running for money...

Those who do not know Usha can say this. She has enough money and need not run for money. She is a great athlete and has done India proud and we should learn to respect her status as an international athlete. I feel sorry for those who say that she is greedy.

If you are so concerned about the Indian athletic scene then why don't you become an office-bearer in the AAFI?

If I contest for the presidentship of the AAFI, I will not get even four votes. Who would vote for me when I don't give them free trips abroad? Who are Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot? Have they even run even one metre in their lives? So long as they are around, persons like me cannot become officials who can change the Indian athletic scene for good. You give me a free hand and I can assure you that the Indian athletics scene will start looking up.


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