Sports awards: Marks not the only yardstick

Bajrang Punia voiced his displeasure after being snubbed for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

Vinesh Phogat, who was also in the race for Khel Ratna, chose not make any public comment.   -  PTI

The annual sports awards – Arjuna and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – are being increasingly known more for complaints from aggrieved athletes than as a celebration of achievements by the deserving ones. The latest to join the bandwagon has been wrestler Bajrang Punia, seeking an explanation for being denied the Khel Ratna.

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As someone who has won a medal in each of his last eight international outings over the past 12 months – including six golds – Punia may have a point when he claims he has scored the maximum under the sports ministry’s points system for the awards.

However, just like rankings mean little on the field where it is performance that matters, cold numbers can only be one of the criteria for decisions, which is why the ministry decides to constitute a selection committee every year.

The ministry guidelines clearly state that the “Selection Committee may not mechanically recommend Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna to the recipient of the highest marks across disciplines. But in a particular sports discipline, award will be recommended only for the recipient of the highest aggregate marks.” This makes it clear that the points become a differentiator only for multiple nominations within a sport.

The guidelines further state that “20 percent weightage will be given to marks given by the Selection Committee for assessment of the eligible sportsperson keeping in view factors like profile and standard of the sports events in which he or she has won medals,” allowing discretionary scope for the committee to take decisions. The guidelines also provide for decisions depending on the level of competition in a particular sport.

The marking system only accounts for Olympic sports. Grand Slams in tennis, Super Series events in badminton find no mention, just as sports like squash, chess, motor racing and golf don’t.

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Hima Das, named for the Arjuna this year after rewriting record books in the 400m through the year, has admitted to being surprised with the honour. “Honestly, I did not expect it so soon,” she has said. Vinesh Phogat, in the race for Khel Ratna, has also shown dignity by not making any public comment. Virat Kohli, twice rejected for Khel Ratna, showed the spirit to accept the decision of the committee.

There have been many in the past who never received them, or received too late – Jeev Milkha Singh, Narain Karthikeyan, Ritwik Bhattacharya, even the legendary Milkha Singh, who famously refused to accept an Arjuna for lifetime achievement in 2001 – all Indian flagbearers of their respective sports on the international stage. Interestingly, many of them have been awarded the Padma Shri for their contribution to sports.