Hours before the Olympic flame's historic arrival in the city, former Olympians slammed the organisers for ignoring the deserving sportspersons in the torch relay on Thursday, saying the torch bearers should have been athletes rather than filmstars.
"The idea is that it should be carried by achiever sportspersons. It is their right, while celebrities from other walks of life could accompany the torch bearers," former Olympian Milkha Singh said.
He said it was a major function "mainly for the people belonging to sports" and was being spoilt by all "the criticism which was definitely not in a good taste".
"Given the involvement of big sponsors, filmstars and other celebrities were important inclusions, but they could have been asked to accompany the torch bearers rather than carrying it themselves," the 'Flying Sikh' said.
However, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi and Sports Minister Sunil Dutt did not see anything wrong with the selection of torch bearers.
"It is the IOA's prerogative to select the players and it as not an easy job.
"We have chosen the sportspersons from Delhi government's quota so major representation is from Delhi," Kalmadi justified, adding "it is a city run and not a national run".
He, however, parried the question as to why two of Delhi's Dronacharya awardees were not included then.
Kalmadi said he also had a word with Usha a couple of days back.
Dutt said "what is important is the spirit behind carrying the torch so nobody should feel bad about being left out. One has to let go such trivial matters when the occasion is so grand."
Former hockey players Zafar Iqbal and Ashok Kumar also said that sportspersons should have been more in number as only 30, all Arjuna awardees, out of 105 torchbearers were from the sports world.
"At least they could have honoured all the former Olympians, which would have made them proud," Ashok Kumar said.
Earlier, Kalmadi said the IOA was keen on bringing the torch to the country so that the youth move to Olympic sports.
"This torch relay will strengthen sporting culture among the youth of the country while we are set to host Commonwealth Games in 2010. This will also be a rehearsal for the Olympics, for which India will bid," he said at a press conference in New Delhi.
Dutt said "this is the greatest moment for Indian sports and I'm happy that this city has realised the way of peace through this torch relay".
"Earlier I was told that the relay will be run on a 42-km stretch but now that it is being run only for 33.5 kms, Mr. Kalmadi can cover the rest of the distance," he said in a lighter vein.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and B L Joshi, who took oath today as the new Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, welcomed the torch bearers to the city.
"We are also inviting 10,000 children to witness the torch relay," Dikshit said.
She also appreciated special Olympic athlete Arja for taking part in the relay.