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Anju, Sehwag, I.M. Vijayan among 21 recommended for Arjuna Award

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI AUG. 2. Anju B. George, getting ready in Europe for the World championships, Virendra Sehwag, just back from the English county grind, and I. M. Vijayan, unlucky to miss out on the award last time, are among the 21 sportspersons recommended to receive the Arjuna Award for the year 2002.

The recommendations were made by a panel which met here on Thursday and Friday under the chairmanship of former football international P. K. Banerjee. As already reported, athlete K. M. Beenamol and shooter Anjali Vedpathak were jointly recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country's highest sports honour.

Although the Union Sports Ministry had stipulated that a maximum of 15 Arjuna award could be given in a calendar year, the panel has justified the enlarged number with the argument that there were many medal winners last year at the Busan Asian Games and the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

The ministry which is likely to announce the official list of awardees within a few days, had, however, ruled that in the year succeeding such games there could be a second award in a particular discipline, but the total should not exceed 15.

The following are the 21 sportspersons recommended for the award: Anju B. George and Saraswati Saha (athletics), Alok Kumar (billiards), Mohammad Ali Qamar (boxing), Sashi Kiran (chess), Virendra Sehwag (cricket), I. M. Vijayan (football), Shiv Kapur (golf), Gagan Ajit Singh (hockey), Mamta Kharab (women's hockey), Ram Mehar Singh (kabaddi), Inder Pal Singh (rowing), Anwar Sultan and Suma Shirur (shooting), Mantu Ghosh (table tennis), Ravikant Reddy (volleyball), T. Muthu (weightlifting), Palwinder Singh Cheema and Sujit Mann (wrestling), Nitin Mongia (yachting) and Ramesh Tikka Ram (disabled sportsperson, athletics).

Though a wrong committed last year, by a misleading projection of Kerala footballer I. M. Vijayan's achievements, has been corrected this year by choosing him for the honour, the panel preferred to ignore the basic norm prescribed by the Government.

That of the nominations for the award being forwarded by all recognised National sports federations, the Indian Olympic Association and State/UT governments.

The deadline for submitting such nominations (May 31) was also flouted in several cases, including that from the Board in Sehwag's case, but then this topic has always remained debatable, whether there should be any such deadline for considering sports awards.

When it came to nominations for the award, the Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB) had a hand in many of the recommendations even though it was not eligible to have a say.

The fact that it was a recognised body and perhaps the fact that seven of the 11 members of the panel present at Thursday's meeting were either current or former Railway employees probably clinched the argument in Railways' favour.

Yet, the presence of Mr. N. R. Choudhary, Secretary, RSPB, at the meeting, as one of the two sports administrators in the panel, provided an unnecessary touch of controversy since Mr. Choudhary happened to be debating his own recommendations as RSPB Secretary along with a clutch of sports personalities of yesteryears including hockey Olympian Ashok Kumar, athlete Shiny Wilson, cricketer Chetan Chauhan, former Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar, wrestler Satpal and weightlifter E. Karunakaran.

It might well be argued that the Railways could be treated on par with the National federations. But then there will be several other units, especially the Services, Police, Petroleum Sports Board, Steel Plants, Electricity Board, Coal India etc that could stake a similar claim.

For the second year running, there were several recommendations from a high-ranking Punjab Police officer and though these were routed through the IOA, the latter just forwarded these recommendations without stating that they were its own recommendations.

The question that has come up is whether State Olympic associations or various office-bearers of National federations could nominate their choice for the awards. If not, why the panel should take up such recommendations at all.

The Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI), having stayed away from the nomination process for more than a decade because of what it felt was the unnecessary intrusion of outside agencies in the selection, is peeved this time that only two athletes out of six it had recommended had got the nod from the panel.

The AAFI argument is based on the fact that athletics had contributed the maximum number of Indian medals at the last Asian Games and should have got a better share of the awards than two, the same that wrestling also received.

The apparent rejection of shot putter Bahadur Singh's nomination, because of a doping (ephedrine) violation at an Asian Grand Prix meet at Bangkok last year, has also come in for criticism from the AAFI.

"If Bahadur was cleared to participate in the Asian Games after the Bangkok meet and is now eligible for the incentive award (meant for the medal winners) why should he not be eligible for the Arjuna Award?,'' asked the AAFI Secretary, Lalit Bhanot, on Saturday.

There is bound to be some confusion about whether the Arjuna Award selection should be based solely on performance in international competitions, as stated time and again by the Government, or whether it could also be for National-level performance. "It is back to quota basis,'' said one federation official.

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