New Delhi: The controversial recommendation of boxer Jai Bhagwan and squash player Anaka Alankamony for the prestigious Arjuna Awards stands after the Kapil Dev-led selection committee met again today and decided not to make any changes in the original 15-athlete list.
Jiji Thomson, Sports Authority of India (SAI) director general who was part of the Awards committee, said they discussed seven athletes in the review meeting but it was unanimously agreed that no changes were needed in the earlier shortlist. The sports ministry is unlikely to turn down the panel recommendations before approving the names for the ceremony to be held later in the month.
"The committee decided against adding any name for the Awards. It was an hour long meeting and we all agreed that the 15 names shortlisted earlier were deserving for the honour. Having said that, there will always be a case when a deserving candidate misses out and his or her turn comes later," Thomson told PTI.
Choosing Bhagwan and ignoring the 2010 CWG gold medallist boxer Manoj Kumar had led to a controversy and forced the committee to reconsider its decision. 20-year-old squash player Alankamony`s inclusion in the list had also raised eyebrows while Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra went to the extent of slamming the panel for overlooking seven of its players.
Thomson said Kumar`s application was not considered earlier owing to a case of mistaken identity and today the committee discussed him. However, the committee thought Bhagwan was also a deserving candidate and therefore stuck to its stance, the SAI DG added.
Kumar, with 32 points, had maximum points amongst the boxers who applied for the honour and two more than Delhi CWG bronze medallist Bhagwan.
"The committee thought Manoj was also a deserving candidate but decided to select one athlete per discipline. In fact, we have recommended to the ministry to award only one athlete per discipline in the future," said Thomson.
He revealed that the committee also recommended to the ministry that no more than 15 Arjuna Awards should be given each year.
"You have to stop somewhere. It is not possible to award all deserving athletes in the same year. Tom Joseph had to wait nine years for the honour," said Thomson referring to one of India`s finest volleyball players, whose name has been put forward to the ministry this time.
Thomson argued that points can`t be the only criteria for selecting athletes. Under the existing points system, performances of the last four years are marked and considered.
"Kapil Dev and the other members were of the view that selection athletes just on the basis of points defeats the purpose of setting up an Awards committee. From now onwards, we have recommended that points should only take into account for shortlisting athletes from the bigger pool of applications," said Thomson.
Thomson, who hails from Kerala, hit back at Hockey India`s Batra for making baseless allegations of favouritism. Five names in the list belong to Kerala.
"I am not SAI DG Kerala, I am SAI DG of India. Batra`s baseless allegations angered the entire committee including Kapil Dev, who has already said the candidates were judged on on what they did for their country and not anything else," Thomson added.
In a rare decision, no athlete has been found suitable for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2014.