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All stars, little sport in big game
- Bollywood burst on Olympic Torch track, veterans cry foul

New Delhi, June 9: Simpering Ash, smouldering Bips and husky-voiced Rani will all be there to relay the historic Olympic Torch; superbat Sachin, skipper Sourav and bygone badminton biggie Padukone won’t.

As the countdown today began to the arrival of the Olympic Flame in Delhi, a bevy of Bollywood beauties and middling-big sportsmen appeared to have breasted the relay tape way ahead of some of the largest sporting stars.

Missing at tomorrow’s Olympic torch relay — being held in India for the first time — will be sporting pin-ups like Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, dribbling ace Bhaichung Bhutia, former sprint queen P.T. Usha and Prakash Padukone.

In the thick of action — amazingly — will be Aishwarya Rai, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukherjee, Aamir Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Chiranjeevi, Rahul Bose, Palash Sen and Simran Bagga. Musicmakers Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash and heart specialist Naresh Trehan will also be there.

The Indian Olympic Association’s tilt towards glamour has stirred a virtual hornet’s nest, with Padukone and veteran commentator Jasdev Singh — the only person to have got the Olympic Order — mincing no words. Expressing surprise that such a huge sporting event was being promoted by film stars, Padukone told a TV channel: “It can happen only in India.”

Singh lashed out at the IOA for commercialising the event. “This is a sportsman’s prerogative. All Olympians, young or old or whether they have won a medal or not, upcoming sportspersons and even state and district level players should be called. Why should they not be given the honour of carrying the torch'”

The broadcasting veteran, believed to have covered nine Olympic Games, added: “It is a pity the IOA has bowed to pressures from sponsors and ignored several notable sportspersons. It is a shame that those who brought glory to the country have been overlooked in favour of Bollywood stars.”

Corporate commitments could also be a factor that has forced the organisers to be selective with the invitations. While Samsung is the official sponsor, sports stars like Sourav endorses the products of LG, which also deals in consumer durables.

“What we are seeing is that filmstars and business magnates are running with the torch,” Singh said, adding that a hotel where the torch will be brought for a while has five of its officials running with the torch. “There is obviously a commercial angle.”

Sourav’s colleagues Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan have, however, been included in the team. Former great Kapil Dev has also been sent for. Tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and weightlifting bronze medallist Karnam Malleswari will participate.

Syed Naeemuddin --- the first Dronacharya of football --- is on the guest list as are former hockey Olympians Zafar Iqbal, Ashok Kumar, Aslam Sher Khan and M.P. Ganesh.

The Olympic flame --- for the Athens games in August — will touch down at the Indira Gandhi International airport in a special Boeing 747, called Zeus, at 9.30 am. After a formal reception by IOA chief Suresh Kalmadi, it will be taken to Qutub Minar. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit will flag off the relay from there after a cultural programme at 2 pm.

Rani Mukherjee will be stationed close to the National Stadium. Ace shooter Anjali Bhagwat will run the final lap and carry the flame into the stadium. The show will end with a two-hour musical extravaganza.

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