Apart from the novelty of the first-ever virtual ceremony, Saturday’s national sports awards function also saw an unprecedented number of awardees with sports minister Kiren Rijiju saying India’s improved performance on the international stage merited such a jumbo list.
Altogether 74 sportspersons, coaches and institutions were selected for the honours – including an unprecedented five names for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and 27 for the Arjuna Award – more than double the usual number.
“The performance of our athletes in the international level has become better. When our players perform better, they have to be recognised and rewarded. If the government doesn’t recognise their achievements, it will discourage every budding sporting talents we have in India,” the minister said.
These sparkling with joy in the eyes of the athletes gives me the greatest contentment. Hearty congratulations to the award winning sportspersons and all the athletes who have made India proud 🇮🇳 https://t.co/2TM0VkgIdd pic.twitter.com/V9HOnt7oge
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) August 29, 2020
“So, compared to the previous years, the performances of Indian athletes have gone up considerably and as a result, the number of award winners have also gone up.”
At the same time, Rijiju said that the government had no role in deciding the awards list with a selection panel in place for the purpose.
“For the sports awards, the committee was headed by a Supreme Court judge and all the renowned people from the field of sports. When they take a call there is intense deliberation, discussion and there are set guidelines on the basis of which they have used their judgement,” he said.
“The minister doesn’t decide the awards, the minister only gives the consent on behalf of the government but it is the technical committee which decides.”
Only 60 of the 74 awardees were present at various Sports Authority of India centres. Some – like cricketers Rohit Sharma (Khel Ratna) and Ishant Sharma (Arjuna), golfer Aditi Ashok (Arjuna) and former national football coach Sukhwinder Singh (Dhyan Chand Award) – were not in the country while others including wrestler Vinesh Phogat (Khel Ratna) and shuttler Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Arjuna) had to skip the virtual ceremony after testing positive for Covid-19.
President Ram Nath Kovind applauded as the names and achievements of the awardees attending the ceremony were announced. “This is the first awards ceremony in COVID times during which the President has participated,” Rijiju said.
Increase in cash prize
This year, the cash prize for the awardees was also boosted. The prize money for the Khel Ratna was increased to Rs 25 lakh from Rs 7.5 lakh while Arjuna awardees, who got Rs 5 lakh last year, received Rs 15 lakh this time. The Dronacharya (Lifetime) awardees’ cash prize was also increased from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh, while the regular Dronacharya Award brought Rs 10 lakh instead of Rs 5 lakh. Dhyanchand Awardees received Rs 10 lakh, double last year’s amount.
Due to the prevailing pandemic, stringent health and safety protocols were followed at the 11 SAI centres in various cities, where the awardees had to assemble.
Behind the scenes: Capturing 🎥 some fun ✌️ moments of our athletes just before the awards.#NationalSportsAwards@KirenRijiju @DGSAI @RijijuOffice @PIB_India @PMOIndia @IndiaSports @YASMinistry @mygovindia @WeAreTeamIndia @ddsportschannel @AkashvaniAIR pic.twitter.com/LYnbDcUJ5e
— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) August 29, 2020
They were seen in PPE kits as they made their way to the various venues. As per the government directions, each one of them had to undergo a COVID-19 test before reporting to their respective SAI centres.
Among the Khel Ratna awardees, table tennis player Manika Batra attended from Pune, women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal and Paralympic gold medallist Mariyappan Thangavelu were at the SAI centre in Bengaluru.
Among those receiving the Arjuna Award on Saturday were star sprinter Dutee Chand, woman cricketer Deepti Sharma, archer Atanu Das and men’s hockey team forward Akashdeep Singh.
The Dronacharya award in the lifetime category was bestowed on eight coaches, including Dharmendra Tiwary (archery), Naresh Kumar (tennis), Shiv Singh (boxing) and Romesh Pathania (hockey).
In the regular Dronacharya category, the five awardees included Jude Felix (hockey) and Jaspal Rana (shooting). Trupti Murgunde (badminton) and Nandan Bal (tennis) were among those conferred the Dhyan Chand Award.
Despite the long list of awardees this year, there’s bound to be a few heartbreaks. Rijiju said that the deserving candidates who missed out can look forward to next year.