Welcoming the government's move to confer Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar, legendary athlete Milkha Singh on Saturday said the just-retired cricketer deserved the honour as he has been a role model of the youth in the country.
Milkha said that despite being such a phenomenally successful cricketer, Tendulkar remained grounded as a man of immense humility and that sets him apart from other great sportspersons.
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"He (Tendulkar) has been a role model. I have met Sachin Tendulkar several times and whenever I see him, I was amazed at his humility. Despite his immense success as a sportsperson, he remained grounded. His success did not go into his head. That sets him apart (from other successful sportspersons)," Milkha, who missed out on a bronze medal in the 400 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympics by a whisker, said.
Milkha, however, said it would have been better had the government conferred the Bharat Ratna on hockey wizard Dhyan Chand before Tendulkar.
"I am happy that Tendulkar has been conferred the Bharat Ratna. But personally, I feel that Dhyan Chand should have been the first recipient as he was the one who put India on the international sporting map," said Milkha, who represented the country in three Olympics and won four gold medals in the Asian Games.
"Dhyan Chand should now be given the Bharat Ratna," he added.
Nonetheless, Milkha said that conferring the Bharat Ratna has opened the door for the other sportspersons.
"After the Bharat Ratna to Tendulkar, now the door has been opened for other sportspersons. They can now aspire to win the country's highest civilian award," he said.
The 'Flying Sikh' even went step further, saying that sportspersons should henceforth be appointed as Governor and Ambassador.
"There are lots of well-read and intelligent sportspersons and they should be appointed as Governor of states and Ambassadors. If politicians or retired bureaucrats could be appointed as Governors and Ambassador, why can't the sportspersons be considered for such posts?" Milkha asked.
Milkha admitted he is not a cricket fan as he feels the country's media paid too much emphasis on the game, but added that the administrators of National Sports Federations of Olympic sports should follow the BCCI officials on how to popularise their respective sports and take care of athletes.
"I always said that the media has given too much emphasis on cricket. But I must say that the officials of our NSFs and the IOA should follow their BCCI counterparts. The BCCI has taken care of cricketers really well."
Milkha rued that more than 50 years after his exploits, the country has not been able to produce another athlete who can measure up to his achievements.
"The country has everything now, money and facilities, but in the last more than 50 years we have not been able to produce another Milkha Singh. I don't see any track and field athlete now who can win an Olympic medal in the next two Olympics," he said.
"I feel there is something lacking. May be hard work is lacking among our current generation athletes or it could be due to the fault of federation officials.
"There is no substitute to hard work. Pursue your dreams with hard work and dedication," he advised the students.
Image: Milkha Singh
Photographs: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images