Deepa Malik joins Bajrang for Khel Ratna, Ravindra Jadeja among 19 for Arjuna

The name of 48-year-old Deepa, who won a silver in the shot put F53 category in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, was added for the Khel Ratna by a 12-member selection committee.

Paralympics Deepa Malik India flag silver medal Rio shot put

Paralympics silver medallist Deepa Malik was on Saturday nominated for the country’s highest sporting honour — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.   -  AP

Para-athlete Deepa Malik was fourth time lucky after being recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for the year 2019 on Saturday, becoming the joint recipient with wrestler Bajrang Punia for the highest sporting honour in the country.

Having won silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Deepa had been ignored for the award for the past three years, leading her to question and criticise the decision. Punia too had questioned being ignored last year despite his achievements but both have finally been recognised by the 12-member selection committee after a marathon two-day meeting here.

The annual sports awards for 2019 across various disciplines and achievements saw the final list include some interesting names and a few firsts. Unlike in the past, the Sports Ministry had formed a single committee for evaluating and deciding on all the awards – both performance and coaching – and the final recommendations include a massive 19-member list for Arjuna awards and six for Dronacharya award for coaching – three each in regular and lifetime categories.

While Gaurav Gill became the first-ever from the motorsports category to be named for the Arjuna – something even the likes of Narain Karthikeyan couldn't manage – eyebrows would be raised at the committee recommending S. Bhaskaran for the same for bodybuilding.

Chennai’s Bhaskaran would be the fourth bodybuilder to get the award and the first in 31 years, since TV Pauly in 1988, in an event that is not considered sport by many and has constantly raised the spectre of doping across the world.

Also being recognised for his achievements at the Asian Games last year was rider Fouaad Mirza, getting an award for equestrian for the first time since 2004. Mirza also becomes the first civilian to get the honour in a sport that has been dominated by service personnel for long. Indian football goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu also got third-time lucky after being ignored twice earlier.

While several medallists at the Asian Games were recognised in 2018 itself, India’s achievements in the continental event saw athletics continue to be the most awarded this year also with Md. Anas Yahiya, Swapna Barman and Tejinderpal Singh Toor being recommended for Arjuna with as many as 14 sports receiving representation.

While women’s hockey would feel hard done by with only one name in the men’s section despite faring better in the past year, it would be heartening for the followers of the sport to finally see Merzban ‘Bawa’ Patel being recommended for the Dronacharya in Lifetime category.

Patel is credited with identifying, nurturing and promoting talent in Mumbai for more than 30 years with several internationals owing their careers to him.

The 12-member committee was headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Mukundakam Sharma and included the likes of Mary Kom, Bhaichung Bhutia, Anjum Chopra, Anju Bobby George and Kamlesh Mehta besides representatives from Sports Authority of India and the sports ministry.

The awards are presented every year on August 29, Major Dhyan Chand's birthday, observed as the National Sports Day.

Widespread criticism

The one prominent name missing from the list of awardees was ace shooter Jaspal Rana, who was not considered for the Dronacharya Award.

Rana's omission — he is the current junior national coach and credited with nurturing the next generation of Indian shooters including the likes of Manu Bhaker and Sourabh Chaudhary — was widely criticised.  But sources said that the main reason was multiple recommendations from sportspersons, which led to confusion with the committee eventually deciding not to consider any of the recommendations to avoid controversy.

Interestingly, even Mary Kom, one of the committee members, had recommended two names. 

The recommendations:

Khel Ratna: Bajrang Punia (wrestling), Deepa Malik (para-athletics)

Arjuna: Tajinderpal Singh Toor, Md. Anas Yahiya, Swapna Barman (athletics), Ravindra Jadeja, Poonam Yadav (cricket), Sonia Lather (boxing), S. Bhaskaran (bodybuilding), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (hockey), Ajay Thakur (kabaddi), Gaurav Gill (motorsports) Anjum Moudgil (shooting), Harmeet Desai (table tennis), Pooja Dhanda (wrestling), Fouaad Mirza (equestrian), Gurpreet Sandhu (football), Simran Shergill (polo), B. Sai Praneeth (badminton), Sundar Singh Gurjar (para-athletics), Pramod Bhagat (para-badminton).

Dhyan Chand: Manuel Fredricks (hockey), Arup Basak (table tennis), Manoj Kumar (wrestling), Nitten Kirrtane (tennis), C. Lalremsanga (archery).

Dronacharya (regular): Vimal Kumar (badminton), Sandeep Gupta (table tennis), Mohinder Singh Dhillon (athletics)

Dronacharya (lifetime): Merzban Patel (hockey), Rambir Singh Khokhar (kabaddi), Sanjay Bhardwaj (cricket)

Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation, Go Sports, Rayalseema Development Trust.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy: Panjab University (Chandigarh).