The Sports Ministry has retained the list of Arjuna Award winners this year while dropping the name of para-sports coach Satyanarayana from the Dronacharya awardees due to a criminal case pending against him, reported PTI on Saturday. This decision means that tennis player Rohan Bopanna and weightlifter Sanjita Chanu will not receive Arjuna Awards this year, nor will Deepa Malik be considered for the Khel Ratna.

The mails were sent out to the award winners on Friday after Sports Minister Vijay Goel cleared the file.

“Yes, we have chucked off the name of Satyanarayana since he has a case pending against him,” a Sports Ministry official told PTI, referring to a defamation case against the coach.

Satyanarayana is the coach of Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics and is in the list of Arjuna awardees this year. According to the report, several people had raised objections when Satyanarayana’s name was recommended for Dronacharya Award.

The selection panel appointed by the Ministry had recommended 17 names, including two para-athletes, for Arjuna Awards and nominated former hockey player Sardar Singh and Rio Paralympics gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia for the Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour in the country.

Goel had the discretion to add names to the list but he chose to approve the recommendations of the panel. Thus, the ministry has chosen to maintain the sanctity of its panel, headed by Justice (retd) CK Thakkar, even as there is a precedence of names being added to the list by the sports minister.

Debates over exclusion

There was a lot of debate after the initial list of awardees was released with the athletes who have been left out questioning the decision.

Goel’s BJP colleague and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had requested the addition of Paralympian Deepa Malik for Khel Ratna, but the ministry stuck to the recommendations of the panel.

There was a debate if Rohan Bopanna, whose nomination by the All India Tennis Association reached the ministry late, should be added to the list considering that his achievements were comparatively bigger than Saketh Myneni, who was recommended for this year’s Arjuna Award.

Bopanna had become India’s fourth tennis player to win a Grand Slam when he clinched the French Open mixed doubles title with Canadian partner Gabriela Dabrowski. Myneni, on the other hand, had won a gold and silver at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. Bopanna had also finished fourth at the 2016 Olympics and there were a few in the ministry who felt that if Dipa Karmakar can be given Khel Ratna for a fourth place finish in the Rio Games, Bopanna could also have been considered.

A few others, though, felt that a mixed doubles could not be compared with Karmakar’s solo show in gymnastics. Their logic was that 24-year-old Karmakar has actually changed the profile of the sport of gymnastics in India with her superlative show.

Additionally, the AITA had not send his nomination, assuming that he does not fit in the criteria since he has not won medals at any multi-sporting event while representing the country, robbing him of a chance to get the award.

However, Bopanna had the option of sending his application to the ministry, which he did not until after winning the French Open in May. Goel had never promised Bopanna the award but it was widely perceived that his meeting with the minister had sealed the deal. A Grand Slam title is considered equal to a gold in World Championships and it should make him eligible next year.

The Indian Weightlifting Federation had also requested to add Chanu’s name in the Arjuna list, saying that she meets the criteria and has 45 points, courtesy gold medals at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Championships, plus a bronze at the Asian Championships.

However, a member of the selection committee told PTI, “Points was not the sole criteria. If points were the only criteria, then neither SSP Chawrasia nor Cheteshwar Pujara nor Harmanpreet Kaur would have got it.

“The achievements were looked at in a holistic perspective. Sanjita has not done anything after the CWG. She did not make even the World Championships.

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