Music maestro A.R. Rahman and film star Salman Khan gave a fitting send-off with their inspirational address to the Rio-bound Olympic athletes at a function organised by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) here on Monday.With the unveiling of the training and ceremonial dresses to be worn in Rio, the Olympic fever gripped everyone, especially with the presence of tennis star Sania Mirza, badminton players P.V. Sindhu and K. Srikanth, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, wrestlers Babita Kumari, Vinesh Phogat, judoka Avtar Singh and table tennis player Manika Batra among a battery of athletes.Saying that music and sports were powerful unifying factors, Rahman projected a positive future for Indian sports by pointing out that the youth made up 60 per cent of the population. “Nothing should stop us. Let us show the world how we do it,” said Rahman as he sang numbers like Koi hamse jeetna paave and Jai Ho .Nationwide good wishesSalman Khan, one of the Goodwill Ambassadors of the contingent, was cryptic with his message, goading the athletes to return as late as possible from the Games. “Give your best, and leave the rest to God. But, don’t leave too much,” said Salman in his inimitable style.Both Rahman and Salman honoured a string of team sponsors with flowers and presented the team kit and bouquets to the athletes and coaches present. Everyone stressed the idea that the wishes of the entire nation were behind the 120 Indian athletes (including 54 women) who would compete in Rio.IOA president N. Ramachandran underlined the fact that the brand value of IOA was estimated at Rs. 500 crore and attempts were being made towards financial independence on the lines of the US Olympic Association which was funding the various national federations. “Of course, we need the government support for infrastructure and facilities,” he clarified.“All the 1.2 billion people will be cheering for you. Olympics is not just about winning medals, but qualifying for it is also a huge task,” said Ramachandran, as he highlighted the fact that the number of Indian athletes this time was about 30 per cent more than London.Liberal fundingUnion sports secretary Rajiv Yadav said that the government was liberal in funding the athletes for the Olympics.“Earlier, funds were given in three instalments. This time, we gave 90 per cent of funds in one go and the remaining 10 per cent after the submission of accounts,” said Mr. Yadav. He added that the qualifications of Dipa Karmakar and the women’s hockey team built the confidence of the officials who were working on project Olympics.The IOA secretary-general, Rajiv Mehta, thanked all the sponsors and proposed a hesitant vote of thanks as he was waiting for Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel, who reached just in time to support the athletes and pose with them for photographs.
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