London Olympic medallists — shooter Vijay Kumar and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt — have been recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, the nation’s highest honour for sportsmen for a specific achievement in a year.
However, the choice, made on Saturday by a panel headed by Athens Olympics silver-medal-winning trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, goes against the rules and system devised by the Union Sports Ministry for conferring such awards, but is said to have been approved by the Ministry, or might have even been initiated by it. With the country’s mood being upbeat following a record medal haul in the Olympics, and awards and cash incentives being showered on the winners, the Ministry might not have wanted the ‘rules’ to come in the way of honouring the achievers, many of whom are being honoured for their performances in 2010.
Cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who fought off cancer, is among the list of names recommended for the Arjuna Award. Also in the list are badminton player P. Kashyap, archer Deepika Kumari, hockey player Sardar Singh and squash player Dipika Pallikal.
Breaking all previous records for such nominations, the panel recommended 25 sportspersons for the Arjuna Award. The reason given “this is the Olympic year,” however, engenders the question: “Which year was the panel considering?”
If it was 2011, which looked to be the case since applications closed on April 30, with a special extension granted till July 20 for the Board of Control for Cricket in India that missed the earlier deadline, the argument about honouring the Olympics achievers would not arisen.
That six days after the end of the Olympics some of the performances of the Indian athletes at the London Games were apparently taken into consideration for the Arjuna Award will set a precedent for future awards.
The idea of enlarging the list based on the ‘Olympics argument’, however, was not reflected in the list of recommendations for the Arjuna Award. Only shooter Joydeep Karmarkar, with a fourth-place finish, and weightlifter Soniya Chanu, with a seventh-place effort, made some impact in London from among the 25 chosen for the Arjun Award.
It is pertinent to note that the 2008 Olympic Games medallists — wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh — were honoured with the Khel Ratna, along with boxer Mary Kom for her fourth World championship title that came in 2009.
The big exception in the number of Arjuna awardees since 2001 was in 2002, when 21 received the award. The rules read that for both the Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award “the Award will be made in respect of the calendar year for which the applications are invited.”
The Ministry does have the right to nominate a deserving candidate in case recommendations are not received from the federations and State governments.
However, so far the Ministry has not given the achievers at the Olympics or any other championships ‘instant recognition’. In the apparent rush to honour Olympic heroes, the ones to miss out would be those who performed well in 2011. Double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi won the World Cup last year, boxer Vikas Krishan claimed the bronze in the World championships, while the women’s badminton doubles-team of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa won a bronze in the World championships. Also in contention could have been cricketer Rahul Dravid.
The following have been recommended for the Arjuna Award: Ashwini Ponnappa, P. Kashyap (badminton), Yuvraj Singh (cricket), Sandeep Sejwal (swimming), Vikas Krishan (boxing), Yashpal Solanki (judo), Omkar Singh, Annuraj Singh, Joydeep Karmakar (shooting), Geeta, Narsingh Yadav, Ravinder Singh (wrestling), Soniya Chanu (weightlifting), Sudha Singh, Kavita Raut (athletics), Bombayla Devi, Deepika Kumari (archery), Samir Suhag (polo), Sardar Singh (hockey), Deepa Malik, Ramkaran Singh (Paralympics), Aditya Mehta (billiards), Anup Kumar (kabaddi), Dipika Pallikal (squash), Bimoljit Singh (wushu).