It’s been more than a month since the country’s premier sports awards were presented to 74 sportspersons, coaches and institutions from across the country in a virtual ceremony — with the President joining online and a huge hike in prize money. But several winners told The Indian Express they are yet to receive the money or the trophy.
The reasons: the last-minute announcement of the hike for a larger pool of winners that has left the Ministry scrambling for funds, time taken to update the winners’ KYC details for direct transfer, and a software glitch.
Confirming the delay, a Sports Ministry official told The Indian Express that the cash prize “should be transferred in the coming three or four days”.
On the morning of August 29, before the awards were presented online with a link-up to Rashtrapati Bhavan, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju announced a massive hike in prize money: from Rs 7.5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh for the Arjuna Award.
“The hike, along with a substantial increase in the number of award winners (from around 30 to 74), meant that the funds earmarked at the start of the financial year did not prove to be sufficient. Since the budget allotment got exceeded, we had to get the money from other existing heads,” the official said.
The official also said that there were “technical glitches” in the government’s online direct benefit transfer software. “This year, there was a directive that everyone should get the prize money from the online direct benefit transfer software of NIC (National Informatics Centre). We had to request all winners to provide KYC details…the technical glitches have been sorted now,” the official said.
Sports Minister @KirenRijiju met the athletes who received the National Sports Awards in Delhi as part of the first ever virtual National Sports Awards function. @realmanubhaker Sandeep Chaudhary, Ajay Sawant, Deepti Sharma. @adgpi pic.twitter.com/DVSr7bbj7T
— Kiren Rijiju Office (@RijijuOffice) August 29, 2020
Speaking to this paper, several sportspersons said there has been no communication from the government on the reasons for the delay or when they would get the trophy and prize money.
“It should not be delayed like this in the age of digital payments. There are some athletes who need the money for training,” said multiple Winter Games Olympian and this year’s Arjuna Award winner Shiva Keshavan.
Some of the other Arjuna Award winners, such as wrestler Rahul Aware and boxer Lovlina Borgohain, said that they haven’t got cash or the trophy, either. “I have provided all the relevant details to the Ministry. But I am yet to receive the money as well as the trophy,” said Aware.
Dronacharya Award winner and wushu coach Kuldeep Handoo, and boxing coach Shiv Singh who won the award in the lifetime category, were among the others who confirmed the delay.
“It feels strange to be a Dronacharya winner without a trophy. I understand the problems that have come up due to Covid, but it felt awkward when I arrived in Jammu without a trophy. The wushu students in Jammu and now in Srinagar, where I have come, were eager to see the trophy. Some of my friends were teasing me, saying ‘have you actually received the award or not’,” Handoo said. “Then I showed them the certificate, and they started clicking selfies with that. Until I get the trophy, the certificate will be like a trophy,” he said.
The awards are handed over by the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. But this time, due to the pandemic protocols, the winners had assembled at various centres of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) nearest to their base or residence and were given the certificate in the online presence of President Ram Nath Kovind.
According to the Ministry official, the government is exploring the possibility of holding another function at a later date for the physical handover of the trophy. “There have been several requests from winners to have a ceremony once the pandemic subsides. They want a photo opportunity while receiving the trophy with the Sports Minister and the President, if possible. So the trophy presentation has been put on hold,” the official said.
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