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Address by External Affairs Minister at the Ekuveni Stadium in Maldives (February 20, 2021)

February 20, 2021

The Hon’ble Speaker of the Peoples’ Majlis President Mohamed Nasheed
Minister of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment, Minister Ahmed Mahlouf
Foreign Minister Shahid Abdulla
Deputy Speaker, Ministers, Members of Parliament, High Commissioner Sanjay Sudhir
Ladies and Gentlemen


I am really pleased today to have this opportunity to be in your midst at this wonderful venue. I just feel I am in the wrong clothes and the wrong shoes and I would have preferred to be running on that track but I’ll still settle for speaking to you today.

This modern running track and playground is a very good example of the high-quality social infrastructure that is today being created in the Maldives under Indian development assistance.

Two years ago, in February 2019, cricket matches were played here between Air India XI and the Maldives National Team as well as Presidents XI led by President Solih himself. Many of you I understand participated in that match.

In November last year our Foreign Secretary did the ground breaking for this synthetic track and we were honoured that President Solih himself inaugurated this facility last month.

I applaud Sports Minister Ahmed Mahlouf, a notable sportsman himself I believe, for completion of this project in record time.

Friends,

Maldives is not just a country of beautiful turquoise waters. Maldives is a young nation and the Maldivian people have tremendous sporting talent. The power of Maldivian youth is also evident in the youthful age of its Parliamentarians who are present here today and Ministers.

Maldivians have proven their talent at the Indian Ocean Island Games held in Port Louis in 2019 with a record medal tally and your maiden gold medals in Table Tennis and Badminton.

It is noteworthy as was mentioned before that the fastest man in South Asia - Hassan Saaid- is also a proud Maldivian, who has received, we are glad to say training in India.

A remarkable achievement for a country which in a sense is more water than land and I am confident that you will create new records in the IOIG scheduled to be held in the Maldives in 2025.

We acknowledge the high priority accorded by President Solih to sports. We note that during his annual address to the Majlis on the 4th of this month he said, and I quote "As sports infrastructure in Malé and other islands continue to develop, we are on track to develop the field of sports to an extent previously unseen.” And India is privileged to be a partner in that effort.

Speaker Nasheed, you are an inspiration in many ways, but you are also an inspiration for the sports people. I know of your interest in cricket, tennis and hockey and I think Foreign Minister Shahid Abdulla is particularly interested in badminton and I know as a sporting country almost every one of you would have at least one perhaps multiple interest in sports.

I am happy to announce that in order to support the development of sports infrastructure to fulfil the interest and aspirations of the Maldivian people, India has offered a standalone Line of Credit of $ 40 million for Sports Infrastructure in the Maldives. This new LOC we hope will be signed soon after the formalities are complete.

This funding is neither for a specific sport nor for a specific island. It is for multiple sports facilities across the islands so that as large a number of our friends in Maldives can benefit as possible.

Our cooperation in sports is of course not new. India has been involved in coaching Maldivian sportspeople in different games, many of whom won medals in the last Indian Ocean Island Games and South Asian Games.

As you are all aware, India has also commenced a comprehensive cricket coaching programme for your cricketing talent. I am informed that the coaching programme for coaches and umpires has already taken place and coaching of your 30 member men’s team and 30 member women’s team will commence soon in Chennai. The state of art Cricket Stadium being built at Hulhumalé by India, along with a cricket-coaching center, will surely boost cricketing talent in the Maldives.

I look forward to the day when I can watch a Maldivian team in a major international cricket tournament.

Friends,

I don’t need to dwell much on how India has been a first responder in difficult situations in Maldives because that is what friends are for. You have all seen the prompt COVID pandemic related assistance ever since March last year when all of us together faced the pandemic.

Maldives received India-made vaccines within 96 hours of the vaccine roll-out in India itself. Today again, I have carried with me another 100,000 doses of COVID vaccine on behalf of the government and people of India. I am confident that when we emerge from the pandemic, we will emerge together with our partnership stronger than ever before.

While our bilateral relations are multifaceted, a key dimension is that India is a trusted and reliable development partner. India’s development assistance is aimed at supporting the aspirations of the youth in Maldives. It is helping the Government of Maldives in building infrastructure, broadening the economic base, and making the economy more robust and resilient.

While our larger loan and grant projects will contribute significantly to the long-term development of socio-economic infrastructure in the Maldives, the smaller but faster Community projects that we are now undertaking across the length and breadth of the Maldives are meant to have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of the island communities.

As these projects are selected, tendered and implemented by local councils and driven by the needs of communities on the islands, they will further promote the local economy and contribute towards creating job-opportunities in the islands.

Friends,

It is an honour for me to speak to so many MPs from a very broad spectrum of political parties in the Maldives. The abiding faith in democracy is a common thread that binds our two countries. And, democracy in Maldives is exemplified by you, your work in the Majlis and your commitment to your nation. India stands beside you on this chosen path of democracy, to assist your development priorities and strengthen your democratic institutions. The end beneficiaries of Indian projects, big and small, are the people of the Maldives. As elected representatives of the people, we seek your support for the successful implementation of these projects which will bring development and prosperity to Maldives and its people.

I conclude with sharing something from the historic visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2019 when he addressed the Majlis and met many of you. He spoke about the unique natural closeness of our countries and remarked ‘Neighbourhood First is our priority; and in the neighbourhood Maldives is priority’.

He also said that India and Maldives are like two flowers in the same garden. What can be said about relations between India and Maldives can perhaps not be said about other countries since only our two countries are neighbours historically, geographically, geologically and culturally.

Since all of you are connected directly with the people at grassroot level, I urge you to convey this message of friendship between our countries, our governments and our people as widely as possible.

Thank you once again for allowing me to be part of this event.

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