The Saga of Padma Awards – Can a Sportsperson Demand Award?

It’s a great honour for any sportsperson to be credited with a prestigious award like Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, after the Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan. The Padma awards brought limelight and honour to our sportsmen when it was recognized in 1954. Being a Padma Bhushan awardee was a great tribute to deserving players. The award is still imperative but the recent controversy of Saina Nehwal poses several questions about the worth of the valuable award. Has the Padma Bhushan lost its value? Is it right for players to demand awards to be conferred on them? Whose fault is it? Many questions come to light with ace shuttler Nehwal’s disappointment and her questioning the authorities for why her name was not recommended for the Padma award.

Saina Nehwal has been making the nation proud for long now. Indian badminton made a name in international circuit with Saina’s commendable performances. No doubt, a player who gives her all out to win the titles for her nation will aspire for a prestigious award but showing their disappointment on social networking sites like Twitter and raising controversies only give way to more controversies. A true player aspires to be the best and receive the highest honour but players should agree that the sports ministry is the one to decide who deserves which award.

Demand for awards 

More cases of such disagreement and demand for awards like Arjuna awards and Padma awards have been seen which is disappointing for Indian sports. Such controversies are only letting more sportsmen to pose questions over their credibility. But the players should also understand as professionals that they are duly rewarded by the Indian government, whether it is award or prize money, whenever they bring laurels to the country. And if the country believes that they deserve something higher than that, then let the Ministry and associations decide it. Sports are a prestigious institution and should not be embroiled in controversies regarding awards. To avoid such matters in future, what the Government can do is, make the nomination process more transparent.

Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that he had got Nehwal’s nomination from the Badminton Association of India late. However, Saina had said that BAI had given her name last year only in August, but the Sports Ministry had rejected it under certain circumstances. The Department of Sports went ahead with Saina’s Padma Bhushan issue and took it to the Ministry of Home Affairs and eventually it was considered a special case recently as the nomination had reached after the expiry date.

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award

Talking about guidelines, the Sports Ministry has issued new rules to select sportspersons for such awards. According to the guidelines, almost 90 percent of the importance will be given to winners of medals in a number of international events from Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Players who will bring victories in Olympics and Paralympics would be considered for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna or the Arjuna Award (depending on what medal they won). Even after such guidelines, if issues like these such as Saina Nehwal asking for answers or Boxer Manoj Kumars’s Arjuna Award which went through a court order last year, keep coming up, it forces us to pose questions on the purity of these awards. To keep a check on such issues rising up, the only sensible thing to do in future would be to have just the one and highest award – Bharat Ratna

The way two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar’s name was put ahead by the Sports Ministry was questioned by Saina who herself has been honoured with the Arjuna Award (2009) and Padma Shri (2010). Saina showed her unhappiness over not sending her name to the Ministry of Home Affairs and added that she and Sushil both have brought medals for India in 2012 Olympics and she would be glad if both players are honoured. Though it’s not right to drag other player’s name the norms state that there has to be a gap of at least five years amid two Padma awards to the same individual. In this case, Sushil received the Padma Shri in 2011 so that would mean that he would be eligible for the Padma Bhushan only in or after 2016. And on the other hand, Saina’s case had to be rejected last year under the same norms. So, why are some players being given extra privilege, is the question that will arise, and perhaps led Saina to question Sushil’s nomination for the Padma Bhushan.

Dhoni’s name 

After all the controversies encircling the prestigious Padma Bhushan award, another controversy that might erupt is Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s name being forwarded for the Padma Award, reportedly. First, we must recollect the fact that the Home Ministry demanded to take away the Padma honour from Saif Ali Khan (Bollywood star) in March 2014 due to a Mumbai court framing charges against the actor.

At present, Dhoni reportedly has his name in a list of 13 who are being probed for spot fixing and betting in the popular billion-maker, Indian Premier League. The Supreme Court is yet to bring on a verdict on this controversy and any unfavorable decision about Dhoni could lead the government into difficulty. Dhoni being caught in a scandal and at the same time being considered for the Padma Bhushan does not seem reasonable. If Dhoni, who recently retired from Test cricket, makes it to the nomination list of Padma Bhushan, another controversy will damage the prestige of the award further.