Virat Kohli’s nomination for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award makes him one of the favourites to bag the country’s highest sporting award. But the question is whether Kohli deserves the award when cricket as a sport has a limited following.
Cricket has just ten full member countries, which enjoy direct entry to the major championships, including the World Cup in both the 50-over and the 20-over format. Then six associate nations in T20 and four in the 50-over format join the party after coming through a qualifying tournament.
Essentially, only 14-16 teams play in the major tournaments. Cricket has a sizable fan base in the Indian sub-continent but who is to say that the cricketers are more deserving than an Olympian who toils hard in the hope to triumph when the Games are held.
Pistol shooter Jitu Rai has been winning medals at the world stage throughout the last two years and can put many of his contemporaries in the shade. He has racked up six world cup medals, including the latest gold medal in the 2016 World Cup in Bangkok. Besides, he is the reigning Commonwealth and the Asian Games gold medallist.
And as per the ministry’s guidelines, Rai has better credentials. The guidelines says: “The spectacular and most outstanding performance in the field of sports by a sportsperson over a period of four years immediately preceding the year during which award is to be given shall be honoured with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award for excellence in Sports & Games at international level i.e. Olympic/Asian/Commonwealth/World Games/Championships/World Cup and equivalent recognised international tournaments.”
In the same period, Indian cricket has lost its one-day crown to Australia in 2015 World Cup and failed to make the final of this year’s ICC World T20 this year. The only major triumph that the team that has Kohli as its mainstay during the same time was the ICC Champions Trophy win in 2013.
But stranger things have happened in Indian sports. Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2014 despite the fact that the sports ministry had forwarded Hockey legend Dhyan Chand’s name to be conferred the award posthumously.