The C Wing of Shastri Bhavan in New Delhi is buzzing with activity these days. Two weeks from now,the sports ministry will bestow the countrys highest sporting awards on deserving candidates,or so we are led to believe.
PK Deb,the sports secretary,says he has lost count of the phone calls and letters his office has received,recommending names for the award. Technically,any kind of campaigning by the sportsperson for the honor can render his entry open to disqualification. However,in reality,there is always intense lobbying to ensue an athlete the award.
Merit gets you to the short-list,they say. Sifaarish wins you the award. A case in point here is womens basketball ace Geethu Anna Jose. She is the only woman player from the country to be invited to the WNBA for a tryout,the first Indian to play in the Australian League and has been the top-scorer and rebounder at the Asian Championships on several occasions.
However,because the national team hasnt done well,Geethu has been repeatedly ignored for the top honour. I achieved a lot for the country. But there is no recognition. My name was there in the final list for the Arjuna Award this time. But sportspersons in team events are ignored in the final stage, she had said after missing out on the award last year.
Art of lobbying
This year,though,she has been advised to work harder,not on court but to ensure the back-channels are taken care off. We strongly suggest that she approach politicians or MPs from Kerala,because theres no one to lobby for her. However shes a very reserved person and it doesnt help that she doesnt have backers or godfathers, says a Basketball Federation of India official.
The last time a woman basketballer won the Arjuna was Suman Sharma,more than 20 years ago. And even then,the trend was for only Punjab players to be considered,because of support they managed to receive.
This year,the Dronacharya Award committee had to deal with intra-association politics when a note alleging a case of age-fraud done by Raj Singh was circulated during a meeting at the SAI headquarters last week. Raj has been recommended for the Lifetime Award. It was an old complaint alleging that the WFI secretary general had two-different date of birth in two passports. The committee dismissed the case,saying it had no relation to the merit of Rajs application.
In the run up to the meeting,meanwhile,Raj had called on the sports minister Jitendra Singh and also met joint secretary (sports) Omkar Kedia with both Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt in tow to push his case. The Olympic medal winning duo,who has won the Khel Ratna earlier,is eligible to recommend an independent candidate. Former India hockey coach Harendra Singh won the Dronacharya Award last year after he got the backing from shooter Gagan Narang.
When Milkha Singh refused the lifetime Arjuna Award conferred upon him in 2001 by then sports minister Uma Bharti,he had blown the cover off Indias most coveted sports honour. Milkha was only the second sportsman after cueist Michael Ferreira (who refused Padma Shri in 1981) to refuse the government award and many hoped it would lessen the political interference in the awards.
The curiosity to know who has missed out,rather than the ones who have made the cut (last weeks decision to ignore Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Amritraj for Dhanchand Award is the best example) is the dominant emotion. Aslam Sher Khan,who was the chairman of the Dronacharya Award committee last year,calls the system fraudulent. The former hockey player said there are occasions the award winner is willing to share his prize money with the ones who have supported his cause. During my playing days in 1970s,the federation used to decide the Khel Ratna nominee a year in advance.
Once,the federation chose the captain instead of the more obvious choice,who felt let down. And just to appease him,he was nominated for the Khel Ratna. This kind of bartering happens all the time, Khan said. We should have an independent panel that will monitor the performances through the year and come up with deserving candidates. Thatll at least ensure transparency,which we lack now.