Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the chief of Haryana-based non-profit outfit Dera Sacha Sauda, has been recommended for the prestigious Dronacharya Award by the the Yoga Federation of India, reported Indian Express on Tuesday.

According to YFI president Ashok Kumar Agarwal, Singh had produced “world class yogis” which made him eligible for the award. “His contribution to the sport cannot go unnoticed. He has given birth to several international yoga stars, including world and Asian champions. So, as per ministry’s policy, we recommended his name for the Dronacharya Award last month,” said Agarwal, in the report.

The Dronacharya award is among India’s highest sporting honours and is intended to “honour coaches who have done outstanding and meritorious work on a consistent basis and enabled sportspersons to excel in international events.”

Eligibility criteria as specified by Ministry of Youth Affairs
Eligibility criteria as specified by Ministry of Youth Affairs

The Sports Ministry states that the award can be given to coaches who produce “outstanding results” in different Olympic sports disciplines, recognised non-Olympic sports and indigenous sports recognised by the government. In that regard, it is difficult to understand how Singh’s recommendation by the YFI can be qualified, considering the Sports Ministry declared, in December last year, that yoga was not a sport.

A self-proclaimed godman and an actor, director and a singer, Singh’s recommendation for one of India’s biggest sporting honours is an indication of the farce that India’s awards system has become. When an individual with almost no connection to a sport is recommended for one of the country’s top sporting honours, it speaks volumes of the estimation in which coaches are held in India.

Pullela Gopichand, a Dronacharya award-winner in 2009 and the man who coached PV Sindhu to an unprecedented silver medal in the Rio Olympics, touched upon the topic in 2014 when he pointed out: “Our challenge is that coaching is not looked at the way it should be looked at. The best minds don’t get into coaching.”

Screenshot: From Mr. Singh's website
Screenshot: From Mr. Singh's website

He added, “India won about 60 medals in the last Asian Games, but how many coaches’ names [do] we know?”

In this year, he added to the point by stating, “The efforts of the coaches are not highlighted. None of the coaches who attend camps are paid well, there is not enough motivation among the support staff.”

In that respect, to even recommend an individual like Singh for the Dronacharya Award sets a bad example for all coaches in India. It is worth noting that this is just a nomination put forward by YFI. While the Sports Ministry will hopefully see sense and not award him, the recommendation from YFI itself sends across a wrong message to any coach in this country – work hard if you want, but we’ll rather bring the celebrities into the limelight, even if they have no connection to a ‘sport.’