National Sports Awards: Flawed points system continues to hurt many

Sadly, the predictable mindset of selection committees, year after year, has led to the growing belief that Rohit Sharma, the maker of five centuries at the 2019 World Cup, appears a certainty for the Khel Ratna Award.

File Picture: The National Sports Awards are given out every year in recognition of excellence in sports.   -  PTI

It is that time of the year when an ever-increasing number of aspirants await the list of names for the year’s National Sports Awards.

For the uninitiated, the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs forms a committee to decide on the nominees for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna, Dhyan Chand and Dronacharya Awards as well as the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar.

This time, once the announcement is made following a two-day meeting of the selection committee ending on Tuesday, expect a large number of ignored sportspersons giving vent to their feelings. Some see it as a way to strengthen their case for the next year. A few others even contemplate legal action. Year after year, this sequence of events follows a predictable course.

Going by the trend of the past few years, wrestlers, boxers, shooters and athletes will get their share. However, several more deserving aspirants from non-Olympic disciplines will once again become victims of a flawed points system that guides the jury.

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In order to remain transparent, and also to appear transparent, not to forget the expected accusations of nepotism or blatant bias from those who miss the bus, the sports ministry decided on a points system.

Though this step made the job of the selection committee a lot easier, it inadvertently hurt the prospects of sportspersons excelling in non-Olympic disciplines, with the exception of cricket.

Cricket gets preferential treatment. Before or after the introduction of the points system in 2014, cricketers have been chosen for the Khel Ratna and more regularly for the Arjuna Award.

So what prompted the ministry to put a points system in place and how does it work?

In January 2014, as a knee-jerk reaction to the controversies and legal battles over some decisions taken by the 2013 selection committee, then-sports minister Jitender Singh announced a points system that gave a 90 percent weightage to Olympic disciplines.

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As a result, performances in the Olympics (Summer, Winter And Para), World Championships, World Cups, Asian and Commonwealth Games, besides the Asian and Commonwealth Championships, helped an aspirant stake a claim for an award more easily than those from non-Olympic disciplines.

Principally, this was against the spirit of fair play since those pursuing disciplines such as chess, carrom, cue sports and several others had very little chance of scoring heavily to make the cut.

Since the sports ministry has taken no corrective steps since 2014, the calculation of points continues to be as under: World Championships/World Cups (once in four years) – gold (40 points), silver (30), bronze (20); Asian Games – 30, 25, 20; Commonwealth Games, World Championship and World Cup (biennial/annual) – 25, 20, 15; Asian Championships and Commonwealth Games – 15, 10, 7.

The points system makes no mention of the Grand Slams in tennis or majors in golf, et cetera. Secondly, there is no way of giving weightage from discipline to discipline. For instance, the standard of Commonwealth Games swimming in certain events is far closer to that of the Olympics or World Championships than, say, that of Commonwealth Games weightlifting, wrestling or boxing.

In fact, those pursuing non-Olympic disciplines, save cricket, have suffered the most.

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India’s finest chess coach R. B. Ramesh, having trained several champions across various levels, was awarded 0/100 when he applied for the Dronacharya Award in 2015. His attempts to present the plight of notable performers and chess coaches to the ministry have been long ignored. Disappointed but not disheartened, Ramesh continues to produce champions.

Unlike chess, a non-Olympic discipline like cricket, due to its immense popularity, thrives despite the points system. Since the selection committee can use its discretion and go beyond the parameters set by the points system, subsequent panels chose R. Ashwin (2014), Rohit Sharma (2015), Ajinkya Rahane (2016), Cheteshwar Pujara, Harmanpreet Kaur (2017), Smriti Mandhana (2018), Poonam Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja (2019).

Sadly, the predictable mindset of the selection committees year after year has led to the growing belief that Rohit Sharma, the maker of five centuries in the 2019 World Cup, appears a certainty for the Khel Ratna award. He is considered a front-runner despite trailing many other aspirants if one goes strictly by the points system.

In fact, out of around 400 applicants for this year’s awards, the Sports Authority of India has shortlisted around half the applicants for the committee to discuss.

Two days should be enough for detailed deliberations. However, the lack of consistency and transparency stands out when one notices certain choices that seem to defy reason. No doubt the decisions are collective in nature, but they appear compromised.

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For instance, if one looks at the awards decided from 2014, when the points system came into force, athletics (16), shooting, wrestling (nine each), cricket (eight), hockey, badminton (seven each), kabaddi (six), table tennis and boxing (five each) have accounted for 72 Arjuna Awards. Only 32 Arjuna Awards were presented across 18 other disciplines.

It would have been justifiable had the points system been strictly adhered to. It seems some awardees were chosen for their contributions more than their performances. Since 2014, there have been three Arjuna awardees each from football, basketball and golf, two from polo plus one from roller skating. Clearly, the points system does not support these choices.

Some other examples of serious omissions are some strong claimants from carrom, snooker and chess. In fact, after 2014, these disciplines have drawn a blank from the subsequent selection committees. The lack of deeper understanding of the varying degrees of competition across these disciplines has hit the potential awardees hard.

In carrom, India has produced world champions and World Cup winners in both the men’s and women’s sections in the last six years. S. Apoorva won the ladies World Championship in 2016 and World Cup in 2018, while Prashant More won these titles for the men. These champions still await their rightful awards.

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Snooker continues to suffer for being a poor cousin of billiards. Despite snooker being far more competitive globally, 2017 World six-red runner-up Kamal Chawla continues to be ignored. On the other hand, in billiards, played mostly in Commonwealth nations such as England, India and Australia, a fair number of players have been presented the Arjuna Award. Perhaps those in the committee lack the wisdom to differentiate between the quality of global competition faced by Indians in the two disciplines.

Chess players, along with their worthy coaches, continue to win medals across various Asian and Commonwealth levels. Even from the world junior and age-group levels, several players have made it to the podium. However, these medals are not considered for the purpose of awards. As a result, since 2014, chess players and coaches have drawn a blank from the jury.

The solution lies in setting right the shortcomings in the system that helps in deciding the National Sports Awards. There should be different sets of rules for Olympic and non-Olympic disciplines, and team and individual events, besides taking a closer look at the standards at Asian and Commonwealth levels across disciplines and genders.

The time has come to consider more categories of awards based on a deeper understanding of performances and achievements. After all, simple arithmetic cannot be allowed to decide the National Sports Awards.