No sooner the sports awards are announced, the media is agog with controversies that certain deserving sportspersons have been left out despite a creditable performance meriting the award, while certain undeserving or persons with less credentials have made it to the Investiture ceremony to be held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Missives are shot off to the authorities in the Sports ministry and even to the Sports Minister directly begging their intervention. Year after year, controversies dog these awards and the media lap it all up expecting a course correction till the final day when the awards are finally presented.
Though there are set of rules framed for considering sportspersons for the award of the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, the Arjuna Award and the Dhronacharya Award (for coaches), problems arise when these rules are given a go by at the time of announcement. This year’s nomination for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award went in favour of Sardar Singh, former hockey captain, and to Devendra Jhajharia, a para athlete who is credited with having bagged two Paralympic gold medals.
The fact that there were sexual harassment cases filed against Sardar Singh in various courts was discussed by the 12-member selection panel led by Justice (Retired) CK Thakkar, but those in his favour averred that since no chargesheet had been filed against him, he could be honoured with the award. If convicted at a later stage, the award will have to be taken back. What was the tearing hurry to confer the award on him this year itself, begs an answer.
While the Sports Ministry felt it appropriate to send the names of all the four Paralympics medal winners for the Khel Ratna Award, the selection committee rightly decided upon Devendra Jhajharia, considering the fact that he had two gold to his credit. Of the other three, two – Mariyappan Thangavelu (gold in men’s T42 high jump) and Varun Bhati (bronze in men’s T42 high jump) were selected for the Arjuna Award while the fourth – Deepa Mallik (Silver in the Women’s 53 shot put) — was out of reckoning for any award as she had been honoured with the Padma Shri earlier this year and had been bestowed the Arjuna Award in 2012.
Irked by her non-inclusion in the list of Khel Ratna nominees, Deepa Mallik rues the fact that while a fourth-position gymnast of Rio Olympics Dipa Karmakar could be conferred the Khel Ratna Award, why should her Silver-medal performance be ignored? To back up her claim, the Paralympics Committee of India had issued a statement that Deepa be reconsidered for the award. Even the Haryana Chief Minister has written to the Sports Ministry to reconsider her case.
Unlike in the past when some sportspersons approached the courts, Deepa nurtures no such ideas as she feels that it is too “demeaning”. Manoj Kumar, a pugilist who won a gold in Glasgow Commonwealth Games, earlier got the Arjuna Award on Court’s intervention. Triple jumper Ranjeet Maheshwary too knocked at the courts but the Arjuna Award still eluded him. Among those left out but were considered to be top contenders for the Arjuna Award are Rohan Bopanna, the tennis champ who won the 2017 French Open mixed doubles with a Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski; weightlifter Khumukcham Sanjita Chanu who has a gold in her kitty from Glasgow Commonwealth Games outing apart from other creditable performance in national and international meets (all other fourteen Glasgow gold medallists have been conferred the Arjuna Award); Anitha Pauldurai , a hoopster of national standing with 16-year long sterling performance in the Asian circuit; and Atanu Das (Archery) who finished fourth in the Rio Olympics.
But the most glaring omission is that of Mithali Raj, the Indian women’s team skipper whose creditable performance in the recently concluded ICC Women’s World Cup should have earned her a place in the bandwagon of Khel Ratna awardees. But since the last date for the nominations was April 30 and her stellar role as the first Indian woman to score 1000 runs in the World Cup was a subsequent achievement, she missed the boat. But if Hamanpreet Kaur could be rewarded for her performance in the ICC Women’s World Cup by nominating her for the Arjuna Award, why not Mithali Raj for the Khel Ratna?
The Dhronacharya Awards given to coaches has been much a matter of controversy since its inception. There are voices being raised by the sportspersons that this category of award should be scrapped all together. All that a coach has to do to get this award is to get oneself recommended by some eminent sportspersons, that he had trained the sportspersons to attain great heights in that field. And of course the right connections in the corridors of sports Ministry. Some sportspersons are known to recommend two to four coaches as having trained them in a bid to get them the Dhronacharya Award. In the recent selection committee headed by Pullela Gopichand, the two who claimed to have trained Rio Olympics wrestling bronze medallist Sakshi Mallik – Kuldeep Mallik and Mandeep Singh – had to cut a sorry figure as the discussion could not decide on either of them unanimously and both were out of reckoning.
The Sports Ministry needs to give a serious thought to the fact whether sportspersons should ever be considered for the Padma Awards. When there are so many prestigious awards exclusively for the sportspersons, there is no reason why they should be considered for the Padma Awards at all. In very exceptional cases, those with outstanding performance to their credit could be considered for the civilian award. But to dole them out to every sportsperson as if it is their right, lowers the stature of the civilian awards. As in the police forces, where cops with a record of high standard of dedication are awarded the police medals and only exceptionally outstanding officers are conferred the civilian awards, only exceptionally outstanding sportspersons should be honoured with the Padma decorations.
It is rather ironical that while we observe the National Sports Day on August 29 every year in memory of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand, he is yet to be honoured with the Bharat Ratna for which his fans have been clamouring since long. A legend par excellence Major Dhyan Chand richly deserves the Bharat Ratna and it should have been conferred on him much before the ace cricketer Sachin Tendulkar came on the firmament as a bright star. It is never too late.