The latest revision of rules seems to have complicated matters further in an already muddled selection process, writes K.P.Mohan

Since the great Milkha Singh turned down the Arjuna award in 2001, hardly a year has passed without some controversy or debate about the National sports awards selection.

Milkha’s rejection of a belated Arjuna award, decades after an illustrious career, when he was clubbed with lesser-known athletes, was justifiable.

The Union Sports Ministry responded to the criticism that followed by revamping the selection panel in 2002, bringing in sportspersons of repute into it, laying down fresh norms and streamlining recommendation procedures.

Welcome attempt

Twelve years later, the ministry has once again revised the selection criteria.

If ‘instant’ success was sought to be rewarded in the previous system, there is a welcome attempt now to evaluate performance over a longer period of time by fixing a four-year slot for selection.

The latest revision of rules, however, seems to have complicated matters further in an already muddled selection process.

A new points system for rating each competition and performance has been drawn up but far from it being foolproof it makes the task of the selection committee more arduous. It looks to be the handiwork of a bunch of officers completely detached from international sports and standards.

A points system was tried out in 2002 but it was quickly discontinued. The latest points system is more illogical than its predecessor.

World championships and World Cups (held once in four years) get the top slot in the points chart; next comes the Asian Games, then the Commonwealth Games and World championships and World Cups (held biennially or annually) and the last slot is given to Asian championships and Commonwealth championships.

The ministry’s perception that a World championship held once in four years should be of higher standard than that held once in two years or annually is obviously flawed. The reality is in as many as 18 sports disciplines that are part of the 28 Olympic sports on the programme of the Rio Games in 2016, the World championships are either held annually or biennially.

The four-yearly World championships or World Cups are in football, hockey, volleyball, basketball, equestrian sport and rugby, among Olympic sports, all of them, barring hockey perhaps, clearly beyond the reach of Indians by current standards.

The irrational points system is further highlighted when one compares World championships (biennial) with the Asian Games.  Allotting only 25 points for a gold, 20 for silver and 15 for a bronze medal in, say in a World athletics championships (biennial), in contrast to the 30, 25 and 20 respectively for Asian Games medals betrays the ignorance of ‘experts’ who drew up this chart.

To date India has won a lone medal in the World athletics championships, the bronze by long jumper Anju George in Paris in 2003. If we take the last Asian Games in 2010 for comparison, Indian athletes took five gold, two silver and four bronze medals in Guangzhou.

Curiously, an Asian Games bronze and a similar medal in a World championship (four-yearly) have been given the same points at 20.

Debatable point

Equating the Commonwealth championships with the Asian championships should also be debatable. For example, in the recent Commonwealth weightlifting championships India took two gold among senior men and one gold among senior women (for total lift only), while it has not won a medal in the Asian championships for a long time.

The Olympics have been left untouched stating that medal winners there would automatically be considered for Arjuna award and Khel Ratna award. Will an Olympic medal be equivalent to a similar medal in a four-yearly World championship?  Will it be rated just above an Asian Games medal?

A question should also be raised as to why top-level meets in athletics, say Diamond League meetings, and similar competitions in other disciplines, should not merit mention in the points chart when World Cup in archery and shooting that are held annually and are of similar rating would get that privilege.

Why the Khel Ratna selection criteria had not been spelt out when that award had created the maximum furore in recent years is also inexplicable.

(K.P. Mohan is the former Athletics Correspondent of The Hindu)

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