The struggle to get a sporting honour in India has long since migrated from the playground to the dank, labyrinthine corridors of obfuscated babudom. The simple logic of performance equalling government recognition has failed to come through even 54 years after the inception of the Arjuna Awards.
Take for instance this year’s award to Anaka Alankamony for supposed excellence in squash. Other players from that sport have compiled a lengthy list of her negligible achievements and sent them to the press. Alankamony has not even won the senior nationals in her sport, they claim. The Indian squash federation has been the pocket borough of the president of the Indian Olympic Association for a long, long time. Does this have anything to do with the award going to Alankamony?
Then, there is the whole points system which has been instituted from this year, supposedly to streamline things. The Kapil Dev-headed selection committee has done a clumsy job of following that to award the likes of Alankamony. Not that the system in itself is perfect. Each medal won in the Commonwealth Games has five points less than the same categories in the Asian Games. In athletics, India has garnered 279 medals at the Asian Games with 70 gold. In CWG, this tally is 27 with four gold. So, which of the two Games is tougher in this discipline?
Boxer Manoj Kumar was ignored for his namesake has been caught for doping. Really? Are the guys examining these applications so inept? They just looked at the name and did not bother checking beyond? After all, triple jumper Renjith Maheshwary was all set to get the award last year despite having been caught for dope till this paper brought the issue to light.
Then, boxer Paramjit Sahota was not considered as his application reached late even though he is far ahead of other pugilists as per the government’s own points criteria. You can pay your IT return online, fill your passport application on the net, and e-governance is something that we swear by. But to qualify for an Arjuna, the athlete’s form must reach physically by the last working day of April.
Many a federation has used this clause to deny players who are out of favour. Do remember Mahesh Bhupathi missing out on a possible Khel Ratna because tennis officials managed to delay his application by a few days.
Further, you better be on the right side of your federation, the IOA, the government (state or centre) or at least a former Khel Ratna awardee from your sport for your application to be processed. You just can’t nominate yourself if you are a rebel, even though you might be a world champion.
All this controversy can be easily avoided if the names are put into public domain before the final announcement and folks involved with sport are invited to present their criticisms. Further, let each sport devise criteria that take into account the uniqueness of its competitions. And let this be vetted by an independent panel. For, Anirban Lahiri may be ranked among the top-100 in the fiercely competitive sport of golf but the existing criteria will not spot him. Similarly in tennis. So, unless there is a member in the selection process who pushes and explains just what a particular athlete has done outside the formalised criteria to qualify, chances are dim.
The clamour for the award stems from the five lakh prize money and free rail travel throughout life that comes with it. For sportsmen in India, these are significant incentives. By belittling them to pander to influence instead of achievement, the Arjuna committees have done great disservice to the sporting community over the years. This must stop; the annual ranting over the awards is embarrassing and quite despicable.