Awards and the controversy thereafter

After a series of meetingswith his officials in the Ministry, Sports Minister Jitendra Singh decided to stick to the recommendations of the selection panel, which, as per the guidelines, had selected one person for Khel Ratna and 15 for Arjuna awards.-V.V. KRISHNAN

The history of sports awards is replete with loads of grievances and disputes. With so much of lobbying and politicking involved in the process, many a time some genuinely deserving candidates get sidelined forever. By Y. B. Sarangi.

The National Sports Awards, meant for honouring our sportspersons, have become a regular source of controversy. Hankering for honour, crying foul on being ‘ignored’ and active self-promotion have become part and parcel in the run-up to the selection of awardees.

The recent conflict, related to the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award and Arjuna award, spoilt the charm of this year’s awards as well. Certain sections of the media blew up the controversy.

Woman discus thrower Krishna Poonia, who had finished sixth in the London Olympics last year, was aggrieved after ace shooter Ronjan Sodhi was selected for the Khel Ratna.

The Commonwealth Games gold medal winner left no stone unturned. She gave interviews to scribes, pooled support from elite sportspersons and met Union Sports Minister Jitendra Singh to promote her case. There was a verbal duel between Krishna Poonia and Anjali Bhagwat, who was a member of the selection panel.

According to a 2010 amendment done to an eligibility criterion of the Khel Ratna scheme, “There will only be one award every year to be given to an individual sportsperson. This condition will be relaxed only in exceptional circumstances, such as, winning of an Olympic medal.”

Last year’s Olympic medallists (shooter Vijay Kumar and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt) were selected for the Khel Ratna inside 15 days of claiming medals in London. This year there was a vacuum of sorts. Sodhi, who was ignored earlier despite his string of fabulous performances in elite events, and Krishna Poonia were the front-runners for the honour this year. But the achievement of shooter Joydeep Karmakar, who finished a close fourth in the 50m rifle prone event in the London Games, was ignored.

Discuss thrower Krishna Poonia was aggrieved after ace shooter Ranjan Sodhi (below) was selected for the Khel Ratna.-K. MURAL KUMAR

Meanwhile, a strong lobby, including some politicians from Kerala, pitched for international volleyball player Tom Joseph. It is believed that the spiker’s name was removed from the original list as an afterthought.

After a series of meetings with his officials in the Ministry, Jitendra Singh decided to stick to the recommendations of the selection panel, which, as per the guidelines, had selected one person for Khel Ratna and 15 for Arjuna.

“This not being an Olympic year, the Government has decided not to increase the number of awards so that the stature of the awards is maintained. While doing so, the Government is conscious that there were other individuals of outstanding sporting achievements who have a claim on these awards,” said a Ministry release, in an obvious reference to the dignity associated with the National honour. “The Government has looked into the various news reports and grievances of different sportspersons. It has also consulted the chairpersons of the committees.

“A separate enquiry has also been conducted by Secretary, Sports. After due consideration, the Government has decided to accept the recommendations of the committees.”

The trail of awards controversies has witnessed some bizarre episodes in the past too. In 2001, the Government came in for criticism from several quarters for issues related to the selection policy. That year, ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh had rejected the Arjuna award as the list also had some candidates who did not ‘deserve’ a mention in the sports arena.

In 2002, shooter Anjali Bhagwat had hit out at the selection committee for picking quarter-miler K. M. Beenamol ahead of her for the Khel Ratna. Later, both shared the award. Five-time world champion woman boxer M. C. Mary Kom made a lot of hue and cry before being noticed and jointly conferred Khel Ratna with Beijing Olympic medallists Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar in 2009.

Shooter Gagan Narang got the award in 2011 after expressing his displeasure on being ignored for the honour.

MOHAMMED YOUSUF

The list of athletes and coaches aspiring to get the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards is endless. The history of sports awards is replete with loads of grievances and disputes. With so much of lobbying and politicking involved in the process, many a time some genuinely deserving candidates get sidelined forever.

The flexible policy of the Government for selecting the awardees plays a major role in this. If the Sports Ministry rule says that “canvassing in any form in respect to an entry will render that entry liable to disqualification,” then it should stick to the norm.

This will help promote true talent and save sports from the embarrassing instances, which demean the status of the athletes. Sportspersons, on their part, will enhance their reputation by showing some respect to procedural propriety and contributing to keeping sports beyond all kinds of negative publicity.