Sport is an embodiment of purity: this was the underlying sentiment at a city function where tennis ace Vijay Amritraj was honoured by Union minister of State for human resource development, Shashi Tharoor.
Neither of the men, however, mentioned the betting and fixing scandal that has overshadowed cricket, the country’s most popular sport.
The function, on Wednesday, was organised by the Rotary Club of Madras East and Kauvery Hospital to confer the ‘Distinguished NRI Award’ on Vijay Amritraj.
Though the audience was hoping for a discussion or remarks on the current controversy, Mr. Tharoor and Mr. Amritraj stayed clear of the issue. Before the minister’s arrival, Mr. Amritraj volunteered to interact with the audience on matters other than cricket.
In a walk down memory lane, he said he took to tennis to overcome a physical ailment and his mother always stood by him. Whenever he would go for a five-mile run, she would drive alongside him, worried he would collapse midway.
Whenever he was unable to attend school (he went to Church Park and Don Bosco before joining Loyola College), his mother read him the lessons and also pleaded with the head of the institution to permit him to appear for the examinations.
The sport he took up, Mr. Amritraj said, changed his perspective on life and taught him to ‘win well and lose well’. Sport for him was an embodiment of purity, a view endorsed by Mr. Tharoor in his speech.
The minister reminisced how amateurs pursued sports just for the love of it. Mr. Amritraj played tennis at the highest level as an ‘epitome of class’ in an ‘era of terribly bad behaviour’ from the likes of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
Mr. Amritraj provided that ‘thrilling excitement’ on court and proved he could beat the best in the business, starting from Rod Laver.
When Kofi Annan, the then secretary-general of the United Nations, was looking for an Asian figure who embodied the values of the organisation, to be its voice, the only person who came to his mind for the position of the under secretary-general was Vijay Amritraj, Mr. Tharoor said.
The only Indian to be the UN messenger of peace, Mr. Amritraj was a tireless advocate of peace and continued to carry out humanitarian work through the Vijay Amritraj Foundation, he said.
Hailing Mr. Amritraj as the ‘National Reserve of India,’ the Union minister recalled how the tennis ace, who left Chennai at the age of 18, kept coming back to India despite his success in the western world. His was an extraordinary voice for India in the U.S. and he did unpaid work as a special ambassador of his country, the minister said.