‘Is my medal of any less value?’

“I won a medal at the Paralympics, the most prestigious event for differently-abled athletes. The country should treat all its sportspersons equally,” says H. N. Girisha in this chat with Ashwin Achal.

Come awards season, various disgruntled Indian sportspersons make it a point to raise a stink. All of us, in every walk of life, yearn for recognition. But how far are you willing to go, if that pat on the back is denied?

In the case of H. N. Girisha, his desire to earn the Khel Ratna award has taken him all the way to the Karnataka High Court. The Paralympian took his fight one step further by dragging tennis star Sania Mirza into the proceedings. Girisha’s court plea claims that he is a more deserving candidate for the award, while Sania’s achievements count for little. “Sania should refuse to accept the Khel Ratna,” Girisha states with conviction, in an interaction with Sportstar.

To fight for individual glory is commendable, but what is the need to do it at the expense of someone else? Girisha’s coach, Satyanarayana, has the answer. “We have nothing personal against Sania. You can say that involving her name adds value to our Court case,” he says.

“Let us assume that you win a 100m event, but the gold is given to the person who finishes fourth. The winner will obviously object. It is the same situation here,” he explains.

Girisha, on his part, claims that Sania’s exploits on the professional circuit has wrongly influenced the government’s decision to recommend her for the Khel Ratna. The 2012 Paralympics silver medallist explains that Sania’s recent Wimbledon doubles title and rise to the World No. 1 ranking cannot be considered. “These were achievements which came outside the 2011-2014 time-frame. In any case, all these milestones do not carry as much weightage as the medals I won in the 2012 Paralympics (silver) and the 2014 Para Asian Games (bronze). These are not my personal observations. I’m only quoting from the government order which lists the criteria. I want the government to explain why they have acted against their own order,” Girisha says.

A peeved Girisha points to the example of another tennis player, Leander Paes, to further emphasise his stance. “Paes was given the Khel Ratna immediately after he won the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Why have I not been given the same honour after my Paralympics medal in 2012?” he asks.

The 27-year-old high-jumper alleges that he is being treated unfairly because of his handicap. “The Khel Ratna has been given to all six of India’s medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics. I won a medal at the Paralympics, which is the most prestigious event for differently-abled athletes. The country should treat all its sportspersons equally. Is my medal of any less value?” he says.

Girisha makes a serious argument, but answers will be hard to come by.

The Khel Ratna selection committee, headed by former Chief Justice of Kerala High Court V. K. Bali, is not required to make any clarifications. The affected party, though, is in no mood to accept his fate. “I will fight till the very end. The government cannot deny what is rightfully mine,” Girisha states.