India celebrates its National Sports Day on 29th August, today, and it marks the birthday of the greatest player of India’s national game, hockey, Dhyan Chand. ‘The Wizard’, as he’s fondly called, won India Olympic Gold in 1928, 1932 and 1936. Every year, a set of players and coaches are awarded the Khel Ratna, the Arjuna Award and the Dronacharya Awards for their achievements and contributions in the field of sports.
Every year, the nominations are put forth by the various sports federations, and it can be easily said that these recommendations are prone to political influences and otherwise. There has been a dubious trend of sorts over the recent years that one or more athletes have come out crying foul play after being excluded. What’s even more intriguing is the cries are more often than not, justified.
Let’s take a look at the achievements and contributions of the awardees this year that will be presented at a special ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan by newly-elected President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
Arjuna Awards winners:
V.J. Surekha (Archery)
Khushbir Kaur (Athletics)
Arokia Rajiv (Athletics)
Prasanthi Singh (Basketball)
Laishram Debendro Singh (Boxing)
Cheteshwar Pujara (Cricket)
Harmanpreet Kaur (Cricket)
Oinam Bembem Devi (Football)
S.S.P. Chaurasia (Golf)
S.V. Sunil (Hockey)
Jasvir Singh (Kabaddi)
P. N. Prakash (Shooting)
A. Amalraj (Table Tennis)
Saketh Myneni (Tennis)
Satyawart Kadian (Wrestling)
Varun Singh Bhati (Para-Athlete)
The Dronacharya Awards list includes Late Dr R. Gandhi (athletics), Heera Nand Kataria (Kabaddi), G.S.S.V. Prasad (Badminton) (lifetime), Brij Bhushan Mohanty (Boxing) (lifetime), P.A. Raphel (Hockey) (lifetime), Sanjoy Chakravarthy (Shooting) (lifetime) and Roshan Lal (Wrestling) (lifetime).
Paralympian Indian star Devendra Jhajharia, who clinched gold in men’s F46 javelin throw at the Rio Olympics and former Indian hockey skipper Sardar Singh will be conferred with the prestigious Khel Ratna award.
The Dhyan Chand Award for life time contribution to sports development will be awarded to Bhupinder Singh (Athletics), Syed Shahid Hakim (Football) and Sumarai Tete (Hockey).
While names such as Devender Jhajaria and Oinam Bembem Devi easily justify themselves on the list, there are a few of them who’ve been a little talked about in sporting circles. Former Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh, who is currently facing court proceedings for alleged sexual assault on an Indian-origin hockey player from England, has been awarded the Khel Ratna, which is not what the rule book suggests.
According to the regulations, tainted athletes should not be considered for awards and Hockey India, led by retired Justice CK Thakkar, seem to have overlooked this point.
Second in the discussion is Haryana-born pugilist Satyawrat Kadian, who won India the Bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In the last four years or so, this is the biggest achievement of Kadian and going by the same standards, Vikas Gowda, Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal deserve the awards ahead of him, earning Gold medals for the tricolour at the same event.
Several other gold medalists have been given a cold shoulder as well. Just for information, Kadian is the fiancé of Indian Women’s wrestling’s poster girl, Sakshi Malik. There is a clause in the award guidelines which says that former Awardees are in a position to recommend one name from their discipline for the list the following year. Does this scream of nepotism, then? May or may not be.
Coming to one of the most controversial sports in the Indian diaspora in recent times, Tennis, also gives us a grey picture. The sport has already been marred by several showdowns between arguably the two greatest players to grace the game from an Indian’s point of view. The second in line already looks to be voicing their opinions, subtly, against each other.
Rohan Bopanna’s infamous tweet and his achievements of leading India to the Davis Cup playoffs and two Wimbledon semi-finals are well-documented, whereas Saketh Myneni’s selection gives the whole scenario a whizz of confusion. Political interference or internal politics — choose what you may. There were claims that All India Tennis Association’s exclusion of Rohan Bopanna was sheer negligence on the organisation’s front. However, the case remained that AITA was not a recognised National Sports Federation until earlier this month. Therefore, there was absolutely no way they could have submitted Bopanna’s name for the recommendations list. So, who is the onus on?
SSP Chaurasia deserves the accolades for his consecutive victories at the Hero Indian Open, and he’s shown some good form at International events as well, recently. In cricket, Cheteshwar Pujara and Harmanpreet Kaur have been dependable for the Indian batting lineups for Men’s and Women’s team in recent times. The memory of Kaur’s 171 against Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup still rings a bell to most Indian fans.
Talking of Kabaddi, National team captain Anup Kumar had already won the Arjuna Award in 2012, and it is reasonable that Asian Cup gold winner and World Cup winner Jasvir Singh make the list from the team.
Arokia Rajiv clocked 45.92 seconds, his personal best, to earn the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games, no mean feat. India has been poor at track-and-field events in recent times, and such motivational epistles must be given out for these athletes to work that extra bit.
The Arjuna’s are clear, and so let’s focus on the Dronacharyas for a bit. Para-sports coach Satyanarayana Shimoga, who tutored Mariyappan Thangavelu to the Gold at the Rio Paralympics, has a pending case against him before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Saket in Delhi.
The coach said, “I’ve been wrongly denied an opportunity to receive the Dronacharya Award. Some people jealous of my achievements have made false allegations against my nomination for the Award.”
There was a massive controversy associated with the removal of Heera Nand Kataria’s name from the list of the awardees. Nominated by the Kabaddi Association, the withdrawal of Kataria’s recommendation took place as the Sports Ministry took into account the players’ input, which said they had no idea who Kataria was. In the past, Renjith Maheshwari’s name was also struck off at the last moment from the Arjuna Awards’ list, when it emerged that he had used ephedrine back in 2008. The reasons may be different, but the effect has been the same.
All other athletes look to have earned their award, or else, do not have any significant rival in the stipulated period. It must be understood that with these awards, comes a wave which hits Indian sports inadvertently. Every year, sporting relationships are broken or jeopardised, and negative notions, deliberately or unintentionally, created in the minds of people who represent the tricolour beyond shores. Is it time we draw curtains to them? Or we set a specific barometer to judge? Only time will tell. We, on our part, can only congratulate the victors.