Ace cricketer Virat Kohli sent the shutterbugs into a clicking frenzy as he received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, sharing the country’s highest sporting honour with diminutive weightlifting world champion Mirabai Chanu at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Tuesday.
Star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who won gold medals in the Commonwealth and Asian Games this year, and junior world champion sprinter Hima Das were among the 20 sportspersons who received the Arjuna Awards from President Ram Nath Kovind.
The ceremony, which is traditionally held on August 29 to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand, was pushed to September 25 this year to avoid a clash of dates with the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang on September 2.
Kohli was accompanied by his actor wife Anushka Sharma, his mother Saroj Kohli and his elder brother Vikas at the ceremony.
Kohli is the third cricketer to be honoured with the Khel Ratna after batting legend Sachin Tendulkar (1997-1998) and former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (2007).
The world’s No 1 Test batsman as per the ICC rankings, has been in stupendous form in the past three years though he missed out of the top award despite nominations in 2016 and 2017.
The 29-year-old Kohli has 6147 runs in 71 Tests with 23 centuries and 9779 runs in 211 ODIs, including 35 tons.
Kohli received the Arjuna award in 2013 and the Padma Shri last year.
Sharing the top honours with him was Chanu, who had received the Padma Shri earlier this year, was chosen for the Khel Ratna following her gold medal in 48kg category at the World Weightlifting Championships last year.
She also bagged the yellow metal in this year’s Commonwealth Games but didn’t compete at the Asian Games due to injury.
While the Khel Ratna award carries a prize purse of Rs 7.5 lakh, the Arjuna awardees are given Rs 5 lakh each along with a citation.
Besides the Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards, the President also gave away Dronacharya and Dhyan Chand awards to coaches, the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure awards, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy and Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.
The awards, like every year, copped a fair share of controversies with wrestler Bajrang Punia’s threat to take legal action over Khel Ratna snub being the most prominent one. he eventually backed down after meeting Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
Before this, the Sports Ministry struck off compound archery coach Jiwanjot Singh Teja’s name from the list of Dronacharya awardees due to a past case of indiscipline. Teja resigned from his position to express his angst.
The Dronacharya Award was presented to eight coaches this year, including cricket mentor Tarak Sinha and 39-year-old boxing coach CA Kuttappa, who was credited by Vijender Singh for his historic Olympic bronze in 2008.
The Dhyan Chand Award for lifetime sporting achievement was given to four former athletes.
Among the notable absentees was cricketer Smriti Mandhana, who was to receive the Arjuna award but is currently with the Indian women’s team on its tour of Sri Lanka.
List of Awardees:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award: Virat Kohli and Mirabai Chanu.
Arjuna Awards: Neeraj Chopra, Jinson Johnson and Hima Das (Athletics); N Sikki Reddy (Badminton); Satish Kumar (Boxing); Smriti Mandhana (Cricket); Shubhankar Sharma (Golf); Manpreet Singh, Savita (Hockey), Ravi Rathore (Polo), Rahi Sarnobat, Ankur Mittal, Shreyasi Singh (Shooting); Manika Batra, G Sathiyan (Table Tennis); Rohan Bopanna (Tennis); Sumit (Wrestling); Pooja Kadian (Wushu); Ankur Dhama (Para-Athletics); Manoj Sarkar (Para-Badminton).
Dronacharya Awards: CA Kuttappa (Boxing); Vijay Sharma (Weightlifting); A Srinivasa Rao (Table Tennis); Sukhdev Singh Pannu (Athletics); Clarence Lobo (Hockey, Lifetime); Tarak Sinha (Cricket, Lifetime); Jiwan Kumar Sharma (Judo, Lifetime); V R Beedu (Athletics, Lifetime).
Dhyan Chand Awards: Satyadev Prasad (Archery); Bharat Kumar Chetry (Hockey); Bobby Aloysius (Athletics); Chougale Dadu Dattatray (Wrestling).
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar 2018:
1. Identification and Nurturing of Budding & Young Talent: Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited.
2. Encouragement to Sports through Corporate Social Responsibility: JSW Sports
3. Sports for Development: Isha Outreach
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy 2017-18: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.