By Milkha Singh
Whenever there is a controversy over Arjuna Award selections, it hits the sanctity of the country’s highest sporting honour. This certainly isn’t good for the future of Indian sport. Because, the awards – and its recipients – inspire numerous budding players to achieve excellence, and if the deserving ones don’t get it, one day players will stop seeking motivation in them.
In my opinion, the selection committee should be extremely careful while selecting the awardees. And, if the achievements are not up to the mark, then the panel should reduce the number of awardees in that particular year. What’s the use of giving the awards to undeserving athletes and getting flak for that?
I do not know how or when it came about, but the decision not to reduce the number of Arjuna awardees below 15 per year is strange. The powers-that-be should keep performance in international competitions paramount and should increase or decrease the number of awards as per this yardstick.
Every year, there is a kabaddi player walking up to the President to receive the Arjuna. Given the fact that the sport is hardly played by a few countries — and players only come into focus during the Asian Games, held every four years, it is difficult to fathom why so many kabaddi players get the award. Having said that, I would say that I have nothing against kabaddi or its exponents.
Monitoring performance of athletes is the foundation on which leading nations build their sporting legacies. In my opinion, the sports ministry should have a separate cell to monitor the performances of athletes throughout the year and it should, in turn, give updates to the awards committee. It is humanly impossible for the panel to shortlist the awardees in just one meeting because the members have to rummage through a lot of files and that too in a limited timeframe. My suggestion is that the selection panel should be formed a couple of months before the meeting, and they, in close co-ordination with the ministry, should analyse individual performances minutely before recommending the names for the Arjuna. Also, the maximum representation in the committee should be from the sporting arena.
Even if the ministry has made up its mind to stick to the points system for selecting the awardees, they should have discipline specific guidelines for awarding points. In the current system, the points awarded for Asian and Commonwealth Games medals are the same. But if you take athletics as a case study, the standard of competition in the Commonwealth Games is much higher than in the Asian Games. India have won around 70 gold medals in Asian Games, while in CWG, we have won only four. Similarly in wrestling, the competition at the Asian level is quite tough compared to the CWG. So, in wrestling, Asian Games medal winners should get more points.
Sporting honours are a major milestone in a player’s career, so they should come at a time when the player is at his peak, and not after one has retired. This certainly will motivate generations to purse sport seriously.