New Delhi: The Sports Ministry on Friday decided against bestowing the Arjuna award on former Khel Ratna winners Sakshi Malik and Mirabai Chanu, pruning the list to 27 but accepted an unprecedented five recommendations for the country’s highest sporting honour this year.
Last week, the Justice (retd) Mukundakam Sharma-led selection committee had recommended 29 names for the Arjuna Award to the Sports Ministry.
The list also included Rio Olympics bronze medal-winning wrestler Sakshi and 2017 weightlifting world champion Mirabai, but the decision on bestowing the Arjuna on them was left to the discretion of Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju.
This was due to the fact that they had already won the Khel Ratna, the country’s highest sporting honour.
The strange decision to include their names raised eyebrows and attracted criticism.
While Sakshi won the Khel Ratna in 2016 for her bronze in Rio, Mirabai was bestowed with the prestigious honour in 2018, after her exploits at the world championships the previous. The five Khel Ratna winners for this year would be star cricketer Rohit Sharma, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Paralympic gold-winner Mariyappan Thangavelu, TT player Manika Batra, and women’s hockey team captain Rani Rampal, the ministry confirmed in a formal press release.
In a first, the awards will be held virtually on August 29, the National Sports Day, instead of the Rashtrapati Bhavan this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The criteria for the awards takes into consideration the athletes’ performances over a four-year period.
A weightage of 80 per cent is given to athletes winning medals at various international competitions with the remaining 20 per cent left to the discretion of the panel members.
Paddler Manika Batra’s recommendation for the Khel Ratna raised doubts as she has not won anything of note since the Arjuna award on the back of her exploits at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.