The exclusion of volleyball international Tom Joseph from the list of those recommended for this year’s Arjuna award has evoked a strong wave of protest in the State.
Sensing the general mood, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy spoke to Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs Jitendra Singh on Wednesday morning seeking the latter’s intervention.
The Chief Minister apprised Mr. Singh of Tom Joseph’s track record at both the national and international level and on how the player has been consistently overlooked for the prestigious award in the last nine years.
Speaking to the media, Mr. Chandy said the Union Minister promised to look into the issue and take favourable action, keeping in mind the State’s concern over Tom’s exclusion.
The player’s cause was also taken up by Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan, who in a letter to the Union Minister deplored the decision of the selection panel to sideline Tom Joseph and basketball international Geethu Anna Jose.
“The people all over Kerala are hurt by the decision of the selection panel. I hope that steps will be taken to address the anguish of the State by including these two players on this year’s award list,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, the exclusion of Tom Joseph was also taken up separately by the Members of Parliament cutting across party lines. Speaking on behalf of the MPs, Rajya Sabha member M.P. Achuthan said he along with CPI(M) member P. Rajeev had sought the intervention of the Union Minister in favour of Tom Joseph last week itself through a joint memorandum.
The MPs were given a patient hearing by the Union Minister who also assured them that he would look into the matter favourably.
Row in focus
The row had come into sharp focus after the selection panel convener and SAI Director-General Jiji Thomson refused to sign the minutes of the meeting on Tuesday.
Mr. Thomson had then met Mr. Jitendra Singh and briefed him over the exclusion of Tom Joseph after the player had been included on the original list of 16 players to be recommended for this year’s Arjuna award.
“A case was made out in favour of Tom at the meeting and a list of 16 players to be recommended to the government was prepared initially. However, after the lunch recess, some members took the stand that there was a need for a review and it was thereafter the list was pruned to 15. It is quite unfortunate that players of international calibre took such a stand and denied such a deserving player like Tom Joseph the award. I was naturally upset and refused to sign the minutes of the meeting before meeting the Minister,” he said.
Mr. Thomson said though he was supposed to meet the Minister on Wednesday evening to discuss the issue, the meeting was postponed as Mr. Singh (Minister of State for Defence) had to rush to Mumbai on account of the tragedy involving a submarine of the Indian Navy.
“I, however, hope that the matter will be settled amicably in a day or two. The issue also brings to the fore the need to have independent observers on the selection panel besides internationals.”
The Kerala State Volleyball Association in a release termed “unfortunate” the exclusion of Tom Joseph and said it was a cruel joke played on the player, who has been serving the State and the country with distinction since 1999.