The National Sports Awards have been dogged by disputes and allegations of favouritism over the years, and the current edition has been among the most controversial of them.
With President Pranab Mukherjee set to give away the awards on Saturday, past awardees have called for measures to ensure the dignity of the awards is maintained.
“There should not be any open fight,” said noted wrestling coach and Dronacharya awardee Yashvir Singh, referring to the war of words between this year’s Khel Ratna aspirant Krishna Poonia and Anjali Bhagwat, a member of the selection committee.
“The committee members should refrain from leaking or discussing details of the meeting. Athletes should respect the committee’s decision and not indulge in lobbying,” said Yashvir, who was adjudged the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) best coach in 2010.
He prescribed a way to minimise the controversies. “There is no problem in increasing or decreasing the number of athletes for an honour. If there are more deserving candidates, then the Arjuna awards list should not be restricted to 15. If the athletes are not good enough, it may come down.
“There should be a sound evaluation system depending upon the merit of the competitions and the position achieved.”
Akhil Kumar, the 2006 Commonwealth Games bantamweight boxing champion and Arjuna awardee, agreed.
“If more athletes are doing well, then what is the harm in giving more awards? Besides, the level of competitions should be taken into account before assessing an athlete’s performance. Transparency should be paramount.”
Akhil said the elevated social status and the other benefits that come as a result of the awards are the major lures for an athlete.
“The recipient of such an award is treated differently. For example, apart from the cash reward, an Arjuna awardee gets travel concession, pension and other facilities,” he said.
This is a more recent phenomenon. Tokyo Olympics hockey gold medallist Harbinder Singh gave a contrasting picture of the 1960s.
“When I received the award in 1967, there was no formal uniform and no money. We did not even bother about the award. One day, I just got the message that I had been selected,” he said.