Not for the first time, a controversy walks hand in hand with the Khel Ratna award, the highest sporting honour, as wrestler Bajrang Punia threatened to move court if the sports ministry doesn’t induct him in the shortlist.
Bajrang on Friday said that sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had assured him that his case will be looked into. The 24-year-old has had a memorable year, winning the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold. For the uninitiated, Bajrang and weightlifter Mirabai Chanu totaled 80 points each. India cricket captain Virat Kohli had zero points for selection criteria. However, the nominations are not solely determined with the points tally as sports like cricket are not part of Olympics.
The points system that was scrapped in 2002 has come back into effect against in following a Supreme Court order in 2014 and calculates the points based on the athletes performance in the big tournaments.
Here is a look back at some of the controversies that surrounded the Khel Ratna award in recent years:
Anjali Bhagwat and KM Beenamol (2002)
Following a stupendous show in the Asian Games in 2002, sprinter KM Beenamol was selected as the sole Khel Ratna nominee. However, the National Rifle Association of India expressed its disappointment at shooter Anjali Bhagwat missing out. The committee had to reconsider its decision.
Anjali, at the time, was also upset at missing out. “I had a wonderful 2002,” Bhagwat was quoted as saying by Times of India. “I was ranked number one in the world and bagged four Commonwealth Games, a silver in the World Cup and in the Asian Games. If this performance is not enough then I have nothing to say,” she added. Bhagwat was given her due, and for the first time, there were two Khel Ratna awards for as many sports that were doled out.
Ronjan Sodhi (2013)
There was drama once again. The year was 2013 and the selection committee’s head recommended shooter Ronjan Sodhi for the award, something that did not go down well with all the members involved in the selection process.
It was later revealed that discus thrower Krishna Poonia and Paralympic athlete HN Girisha were on the initial shortlist, and not Sodhi. Poonia was accused of lobbying for the award too, but she rubbished those allegations.
Girisha vs Sania (2015)
Before tennis ace Sania Mirza got her hands on the Khel Ratna award in 2015, there was a long-drawn battle between Paralampian HN Girisha and the Sports ministry with the former filing a Public Interest Litigation in the Karnataka High Court.
Girisha stated that he was the top contender, getting 90 points after clinching the silver medal in the 2012 Paralympics. Girisha’s petition also stated that Mirza’s Grand Slam wins between 2011 and 2015 didn’t make the cut-off for the award. Nonetheless, the controversies were put to rest, and Mirza emerged as the sole winner.
No award/Awards galore
Discus throwers Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia, shuttler PV Sindhu and golfer Jeev Milkha Singh were all in the mix but none of them made the cut. The selection committee, headed by World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev, had recommended Jeev’s name but it was not met with much enthusiasm from the rest of his crew. For the second time, there was no Khel Ratna awardee.
It’s noteworthy that there were three winners – boxers Mary Kom and Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar – in 2009. Vijender and Sushil, on that occasion, were rewarded for their Olympic medal wins. Another Olympic year, 2016, saw as many as four winners which included medal winners PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik along with gymnast Dipa Karmakar and shooter Jitu Rai.
Deepa Malik (2016)
After winning a silver medal in shot put during Rio Paralympics in 2016, Deepa Malik felt that she was being ignored despite her achievements as she was also a medal in the quadrennial event. That year two-time paralympics gold medallist Devendra Jhajharaia and former hockey skipper Sardar Singh were conferred with the award. Malik felt that an exception should have been made to include her name too.