Sportstar Aces Awards 2020: What the jury said

Here's what Sunil Gavaskar, Aparna Popat, Anjali Bhagwat, M. M. Somaya and Viswanathan Anand had to say about picking the winners.

N. Murali, chairman, Kasturi and Sons (third from left) with jury members (from left) Aparna Popat; Anjali Bhagwat; Sunil Gavaskar; N. Ram, chairman, the Hindu Group Publishing; and M. M. Somaya. Jury member Viswanathan Anand could not make it to the function.   -  THE HINDU

Sunil Gavaskar

In sports, the concept of professionalism has changed. The infrastructure is far better now than what it was years ago. Be it a scientific coaching method, attitude or the general approach — a lot has changed. Even 10 years ago, a lot of Indian sportspersons would go to events just to participate, but now, most of them go there to win medals.

While choosing the winners (for the Sportstar Aces awards 2020), it was tough to make a choice in the racquet sports category. I do believe we should try and encourage sportsmen as much as possible, but at the same time, not be in a situation where they may have done well, but not in an eye-catching manner. In that case, we may just have to do away with the award in that category. However, in the end, we were happy with what we did for racquet sports. It was an out of the box suggestion, and that’s where the jury comes in, to maybe even look outside the names that are suggested. The Coach of the Year was also a tough category.

But the dockets prepared by the teams of Sportstar and The Hindu gave us an idea of the achievements of Indian sportspersons across disciplines throughout the year. And it helped the jury to come to a decision.

(A former India cricket captain, Gavaskar was chairman of the jury.)

M. M. Somaya

Earlier, there was a feeling that apart from cricket and hockey, it would be very difficult to find a world champion. When we went to the Olympics, only the hockey team was expected to win medals.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see that we have excelled in almost every sport in the last 10 years. We were phenomenal in boxing and shooting. Badminton has also done so well. It’s so good to see that we are doing well, not only at the Asian level, but also in the world championships.

Being the part of a a jury and choosing the winners is a happy feeling, but at the same time, it’s also a difficult job. There were so many people who have fared well, so making a choice between one or the other was difficult. Choosing the right candidates in the individual categories — especially athletics and a few others — was tough. Sometimes it was heartbreaking to name one over the other.

(Somaya is a former India hockey captain.)

Anjali Bhagwat

There has been a vast change over the last 10 years. In our times, there was not so much recognition or appreciation by the society or the media. But now, sportspersons are being honoured more and more. It’s a token of love and appreciation. It pushes you to do better. Choosing the winners was difficult because we have had fantastic achievements by youngsters in all the disciplines. The toughest was to choose the sportsman of the year in the individual category, where Bajrang Punia and Amit Panghal were in the fray. We really had a tough time.

(Anjali is a former international shooter.)

Viswanathan Anand

We are now bench-marking among the best, so during the selection itself, we are trying to judge who has the best chance in the Olympics or in the World Championships. Ambition too has risen a lot. While choosing the winners, surprisingly, there were only a couple of occasions when there was an extra suggestion. The rest went pretty fast, we were unanimous. The nice thing is when you can include someone from your own sport, because you can introduce the extra perspective. In the case of Koneru Humpy, I was able to get the attention of the jury to include her in the list.

(Anand is India’s first grandmaster and a five-time world chess champion.)

Aparna Popat

The Indian sports scene has changed tremendously. There were a lot of nominations and as a jury member it was actually difficult to come up with a clear winner, as sometimes, the performances were so close.

The job of the jury has been made much more difficult because the performances have gone up many notches. There were a lot of categories, where we could not pick one winner over the other, hence we came up with a tie. There was a lot of deliberation on where the sportspeople were coming from and their background. Thus, we saw their achievements in a very comprehensive way.

(Aparna is a former badminton champion.)