Pankaj Advani and Ajay Maken on Tuesday have slammed the government for reducing the Rajiv Khel Ratna to a mere ‘popular’ award, getting “swayed” by the hype created around Sania Mirza’s achievements and conferring it to her.
Sania was conferred the award on August 29 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan despite a Karnataka High Court notice on the petition filed by Paralympian HN Girisha, who challenged the decision of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards selection committee.
“When we talk about sports in India, we get carried away by the hype generated around a sport. You cannot be swayed by the popularity of a particular sport or a sportsperson. I think when it comes to government awards, let’s treat every sporting achievement in a pure way. There are a lot of sportspersons who are not that popular and, because of that reason, it’s like a more popular sportsperson getting the bigger award,” Advani, 13-time world billiards and snooker champion, said here.
It must be mentioned here that Girisha has argued that he accounted for 90 marks (70 for London Paralympics silver medal and 20 for Incheon Asian Games bronze) during the award computation period from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2014, while Sania’s WTA titles and Wimbledon doubles victory do not count as per the government’s performance-based points system.
Also, it was not Sania but the sports ministry that had forwarded her application for the Khel Ratna to the selection committee only after her Wimbledon doubles crown with Martina Hingis.
Maken, former sports minister, concurred that sports awards are losing their sheen because of the controversies surrounding them. “In order to see that such controversies do not happen, the chairperson and the members of these awards committees should be non-partisan people. That’s why I made Olympian Rajyavardhan Rathore chairperson of the awards selection committee. I never cared about the political dealings during my tenure. And, he did a commendable job that time. There was not even a single sifarish (recommendation) from my side at least as a sports minister unlike these days,” observed Maken.
The 12-member committee was headed by retired chief justice of the Kerala High Court, Justice VK Bali and included three senior journalists.
“I believe there’s less weightage for team events, and then you have Sania getting the Khel Ratna for being the doubles world No. 1 which is a team effort. If I talk about the cue sports, our multiple-time national champion and 2013 World Championship gold medallist Vidya Pillai had applied for the Arjuna, but her achievements were not even considered. Why is there discrimination when it comes to selecting people for awards or making policies?” asked the 30-year-old Bengaluru-based cueist, Advani, who recently defended his World 6-Red snooker title in Pakistan.
“When I got the Khel Ratna and Arjuna, the point system was extremely fair. But today, I can’t put my hand on the heart and say that the entire system is transparent. We hear cases of lobbying, favouritism and people using their influence. I mean we are talking about sport and let’s keep the selection fair,” added Advani.
Both Maken and Advani were of the opinion that more and more former sportspersons who have no conflict of interest and are extremely fair should be made part of such award committees.