So Tom Joseph is not worthy of an Arjuna Award.

He may be the finest volleyball player India has produced since the legendary Jimmy George, but the selection panel for the Arjuna Awards does not think he is even among India’s better sportspersons of the moment.

The dissenting note by a member of that panel did not matter. All the noise and the strong recommendations made by the politicians, including the Chief Minister, did not matter. All the ink used by the newspapers and the sound bytes generated by the television channels did not matter, either.

Fair enough. Extraneous pressure should not have mattered when it comes to choosing the country’s finest athletes for the highest honours.

Merit matters

But something else should have mattered. Something called merit. Here is a man who has been the best Indian player for well over a decade. A man who has led the country with distinction. A man who has given, and continues to give, sheer joy to spectators.

He has been nominated nine times for the Arjuna Award. Nine times he has been found ineligible.

This writer has seen Tom play for a Junior India side at the pre-Federation Cup at Koyilandy near here way back in 1998. It was no rocket science to decipher that a huge star in volleyball was in the making; his smashes were pure magic. By the time when one next met him, some four years later, he had already become the finest of his generation.

Due recognition

Tom has never pretended that the Arjuna Award doesn’t mean much to him. Because he is human after all, notwithstanding the superhuman qualities he displays on the court. Everyone appreciates some recognition for the effort they put in.

When you play a sport like volleyball in India, you are not celebrated every day like a cricketer. Neither do you earn even a fraction of what a cricketer does. And don’t forget, Arjuna Award also carries a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh. To deny that to someone who so richly deserves is injustice too. Tom did give vent to his frustrations to the media when the list of Arjuna Awardees was announced on Thursday. The pain on his face and in his voice was obvious.

This is not the way to treat one of your greatest sporting talents.

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