Today, 29 August, is National Sports Day. Despite the numerous laments about our inability to provide sports its rightful place in schools and educational institutions, despite the remonstrations about the lack of gold medals in the Olympic Games, we acknowledge that sports is an integral part of Indian society.
29 August, 2017, is the 112th birth anniversary of the legendary sportsman Major Dhyan Chand – one of the greatest hockey players of all times. In addition to securing 3 gold medals (in field hockey) for India, Dhyan Chand scored over 400 goals in various domestic and international matches.
Today, in a glitzy presentation ceremony to commemorate the event, the national sports awards shall be presented by the newly elected President of India President Ram Nath Kovind. The event shall be held in the hallowed halls of the Rashtrapati Bhawan itself. 17 of the country’s best sportspersons will receive the coveted Arjuna Award and 2 others will receive the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.
Last week the final list of award recipients was announced.
List of Arjuna Award recipients –
- Jyothi Surekha Vennam (Archery)
- Khushbir Kaur (Athletics)
- Rajiv Arokia (Athletics)
- Prashanti Singh (Basketball)
- Laishram Devendro Singh (Boxing)
- Cheteshwar Pujara (Cricket)
- Harmanpreet Kaur (Cricket)
- Oinam Bembem Devi (Football)
- Shiv Chawrasia (Golf)
- SV Sunil (Hockey)
- Jasvir Singh (Kabaddi)
- Prakash Nanjappa (Shooting)
- Anthony Amalraj (Table Tennis)
- Saketh Myneni (Tennis)
- Satyawart Kadian (Wrestling)
- Varun Bhati (Para-Athlete)
- Thangavelu Mariyappan (Para-Athlete)
List of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Awardees –
- Devendra Jhajharia
- Sardar Singh
List of Dronacharya Award recipients –
- Brij Bhushan Mohanty (Boxing – Lifetime)
- G.S.S.V. Prasad (Badminton – Lifetime)
- Heera Nand Kataria (Kabaddi)
- Late Dr. R. Gandhi (Athletics)
- Mr. P.A. Raphel (Hockey – Lifetime)
- Mr. Roshan Lal (Wrestling – Lifetime)
- Sanjoy Chakraverthy (Shooting – Lifetime)
List of sportspersons set to receive the Dhyanchand Award –
- Bhupender Singh (Athletics)
- Sumarai Tete (Hockey)
- Syed Shahid Hakim (Football)
Controversies Mire Selection of Awardees
Each of the National Sports Awards recipients has distinguished himself or herself by demonstrating sportsmanship and skills of the highest order. Our heartfelt congratulations and wishes to those who have been named. What cannot be ignored, however, is the controversy that once again surrounds the selection criteria for these awards and the objectivity of the selection committee. Such controversies and complaints from those who fail to make it have also become an annual affair, quite like the awards ceremony themselves.
The major issue with the presentation of the National Sports Awards is the lack of transparency. While undoubtedly the selection committee will have been given specific criteria to make their choices by and it is quite possible that the members of this committee cannot blatantly ignore success and make completely biased choices, it must also be agreed that the perception of favouritism, bias, and politics, is an old one – quite stubborn and difficult to get rid of.
Historic Wrongs Need to Be Set Right
Before we get down to setting perceptions on track, let us look at major lapses that need to be repaired.
Cricket may be deemed the national religion of India but the selectors missed out on awarding the likes of Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, even when the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (India’s highest sports award) was instituted back in the early 1990s. Cricketing icons such as Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly too were not considered in their prime days. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna is awarded to the sportsperson with the most significant achievement in the year. In 2008 and 2014, no one was deemed eligible for the award and in other years (2002, 2009, 2012, 2016, and 2017) multiple athletes have been awarded the prize. Mahesh Bhupathi and Mithali Raj are other prominent names that are missing from the list of awardees.
Over the years Olympics athletes have been shown undue favour. Despite this Milkha Singh was awarded the Arjuna Award (lifetime) only in 2001 when the awards themselves were instituted in the 1960s. The Flying Sikh turned down the awards saying, “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved“. The Sports Authority of India has been inconsistent in its criteria and the deadline for submitting entries depending on the stature of the athletes who are expected to apply.
Yesterday, the National Sports Talent Search Portal was launched and emphasis on sports is mounting. Despite all these efforts, however, it shall be difficult to reach out to the youth of the country unless we initiate reforms and bring transparency at the highest levels.