Chandigarh, April 21 (IANS) Bhupinder Singh Hooda may have proved his political acumen by being chief minister of Haryana for a second consecutive term, but he is dabbling in something else as well - sports.
Unlike other politicians who dabble in sports only as administrators of some sporting discipline without knowing much about the game, Hooda is a keen player of tennis and badminton himself.
Last week, at the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA) stadium here, Hooda partnered international doubles player Leander Paes at an exhibition match here against two budding tennis players. Though Paes was the focus of all eyes, the doubles champion was often heard saying "well played sir". Despite his age - Hooda is nearing 65 - the chief minister was playing comfortably given the international class of his partner Paes.
Hooda never misses an opportunity to have a game of tennis or badminton. At his sprawling official residence in Chandigarh, the chief minister plays tennis regularly, whenever he is in the state capital. He even plays cricket matches once in a while.
In recent years, after Haryana players brought several medals from the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games (CWG) and other international events, especially boxers like Vijender Singh and other athletes, the Hooda government has been announcing a number of incentives, including cash prizes worth millions of rupees, cars, mobile phones and good jobs, to encourage sports among youth.
Even players from other states, like shooter Gagan Narang, badminton ace Saina Nehwal (both from Hyderabad), discuss thrower Krishna (Rajasthan) and wrestler Sushil Kumar (Delhi) have also benefited from the financial largesse of the Hooda government on the basis of having some Haryana connection.
After the game with Paes here, Hooda announced the tennis ace's name as the sports ambassador of Haryana. Officially, Paes is supposed to help the Haryana government to promote sports in the state and motivate youth to take up sports as a career. How much of time Paes will be able to spend, given his international tennis commitments, is anyone's guess.
A state government spokesman said Paes "will also set up a sports centre on the PPP model in the national capital region of Haryana, land for which would be provided by the state government. Besides, Paes would also help the sports department in developing better sports infrastructure and put in place state-of-the-art training facilities for sportspersons of Haryana".
The Hooda government's decision on Paes, who was born in Goa and brought up in West Bengal, has, however, not gone down well with some.
"The recent appointment of the ace professional tennis player Leander Paes as the brand ambassador of sports in Haryana has come as a surprise to not only most decision makers and youth of the state but retired and senior players as well," said Parminder S. Dhull, a legislator of the opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
"The appointment reflects the apathy of the Congress-led state government towards the prevailing sporting spirit and mood of youth who regard the likes of boxing legend Vijender Singh and wrestling champion Sushil Kumar as their sporting icons," Dhull said.
Dhull charged the Hooda government with trying to "bring an outsider to draw inspiration.....to discourage and embarrass our own athletes".
In recent years, athletes from Haryana have brought 63 medals for the country, including 29 gold, 15 silver and 19 gold. The majority of the medals were in the fields of boxing, wrestling, kabaddi, athletics and hockey. At least 15 players from Haryana have booked their berth for the London Olympics.
"In a state where there are few takers for tennis, mostly limited to a few cities, our youth does not need to bring a professional player externally and draw inspiration from him when we have our own well-acclaimed sportspersons. The chief minister is more concerned about fulfilling his own interests and objectives," Dhull said.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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