New Delhi: Mired in selection controversies and devoid of a Khel Ratna for the first time in 20 years, the National Sports Awards were presented on Friday by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in a ceremony which was severely short on star power.
Like the past editions, selection controversies cast a shadow on the ceremony and matters came to a head when boxer Manoj Kumar dragged the Sports Ministry to court after being overlooked for the Arjuna award despite qualifying in the new points system.
Add to this, the awards selection committee did not find any athlete worthy of the country's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna this year.
None of the seven candidates, whose names were forwarded to the committee, got the 12-member panel's nod, making it the first time since 1994 when no sportsperson was named for the top award.
Controversies aside, the ceremony followed the long-standing traditions as awardees walked up to receive their respective honours from the President amid resounding applause from the dignitaries present, including Vice President M Hamid Ansari and Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
A notable absentee from the ceremony today was cricketer R Ashwin. The off-spinner could not make it as he is currently on national duty in England in an ongoing ODI series.
The others who were bestowed the honour were Akhilesh Varma (archery), Tintu Luka (athletics), H N Girisha (paralympics), V Diju (badminton), Geetu Ann Jose (basketball), Jai Bhagwan (boxing), Anirban Lahiri (golf), Mamta Pujari (kabaddi), Saji Thomas (rowing), Heena Sidhu (shooting), Anaka Alankamony (squash), Tom Joseph (volleyball), Renubala Chanu (weightlifting) and Sunil Rana (wrestling).
Arjuna, Dronacharya and Dhyan Chand awardees received statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each. Recipients of Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar were given trophies.
The awards selection panel, headed by cricket legend Kapil Dev, included the likes of Anju Bobby George and Kunjarani Devi, two media persons and three government representatives, including Sports Authority of India Director General Jiji Thomson.
Picking 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist Jai Bhagwan and ignoring the gold-medallist from the same event, Manoj Kumar, had led to a massive controversy ahead of the award. 20-year-old squash player Alankamony's inclusion in the list had also raised eyebrows. Kumar, with 32 points, had maximum points amongst the boxers who applied for the honour and two more than Bhagwan.
Dronacharya award: Mahabir Prasad (Wrestling), N Lingappa (Athletics - Lifetime), G Manoharan (Boxing - Lifetime), Gurcharan Singh Gogi (Judo - Lifetime), Jose Jacob (Rowing - Lifetime).
Dhyan Chand award: Gurmail Singh (Hockey), K P Thakkar (Swimming - Diving), Zeeshan Ali (Tennis).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar:
1. Employment of sports persons and sports welfare measures: Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC)
2. Community Sports - identification and nurturing of budding /young talent: Jindal Steel Works (JSW)
3. Establishment and Management of sports academies of excellence: Guru Hanuman Akhara, Delhi
4. Other forms of sports activities not covered in the four categories mentioned in the schemes: Child Link Foundation of India (Magic Bus)