The unprecedented medal haul by Indian sportspersons at this year’s Olympics and Paralympics has resulted in a highest-ever number of recommendations for the Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awards.
Tokyo Olympics javelin throw champion Neeraj Chopra, silver medallist wrestler Ravi Dahiya, bronze-winning boxer Lovlina Borgohain and hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh are among 11 names selected for the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna, the country’s highest sporting honour.
India had its biggest medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics with one gold, two silver and four bronze medals. The other three medallists – wrestler Bajrang Punia, shuttler PV Sindhu and weightlifter Mirabai Chanu – have already been conferred with the Khel Ratna.
The 23-year-old Chopra became only the second Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medallist after Abhinav Bindra in the 10m air rifle shooting event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. India had sent its biggest-ever Olympic contingent to Tokyo this year.
All five gold medallists from the Tokyo Paralympics were also shortlisted for the Khel Ratna on Wednesday. They are Avani Lekhara (shooting), Manish Narwal (shooting), Sumit Antil (athletics), Pramod Bhagat (badminton) and Krishna Nagar (badminton).
India returned with 19 medals – including five gold, eight silver and six bronze – from the Paralympics.
In addition, the selection committee also named footballer Sunil Chhetri and women’s Test cricket captain Mithali Raj in the list, which will now be sent to the union sports ministry for approval.
The announcement of the national sports awards was delayed so that performances at the Paralympics could also be considered.
The panel also named as many as 35 athletes for the Arjuna Award, including cricketer Shikhar Dhawan, para table tennis player Bhavina Patel, para shuttler Suhas Yathiraj and high jumper Nishad Kumar.
Others selected by the panel for the Arjuna Award include all of Sreejesh’s bronze-winning teammates, women’s hockey players Vandana Katariya and Monika, fencer Bhavani Devi, boxer Simranjit Kaur, wrestler Deepak Punia, pistol shooter Abhishek Verma, boxer Simranjit Kaur, kabaddi player Sandeep Narwal and women’s tennis player Ankita Raina.
Mallakhamb player Himani Uttam Parab and Arpinder Singh (triple jump, athletics) are also among those getting the nod for the honour.
Five athletes were selected for the Khel Ratna last year while four received it after the 2016 Rio Games. The number of names shortlisted for the Arjuna Award last year was 27.
Former sports minister Kiren Rijiju had sought to explain the large number of awardees arguing that India’s performance at international competitions had improved considerably in recent times and the awards should recognise and honour these achievements.
Not too long ago, there used to be not more than one Khel Ratna awardee in a year, and sometimes no one was conferred the honour if the committee didn’t deem anyone worthy of it.
Meanwhile, para athlete Sumit Antil, who won a gold medal in javelin throw in Tokyo, said he will apply for the Arjuna Award in future despite being selected for the higher honour.
“Though I had applied for the Arjuna Award, I am happy that the committee found me suitable for this award (Khel Ratna). I am honoured to receive this award. But in future I shall apply for the Arjuna Award too, as since childhood I had dreamt to be an Arjuna Awardee. And if people think that it is for money, I announce that I will give the award money of the Arjuna Award, if I win, to charity,” Antil said in a statement.
Also, athletics coaches Radhakrishna Nair and TP Ouseph as well as hockey coach Sandeep Sangwan are among those selected for the Dronacharya award. The Khel Ratna awardees receive Rs 25 lakh and a citation, while the Arjuna award carries a prize purse of Rs 15 lakh each and a citation.