The Indian cricket board’s nomination of Virat Kohli for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the biggest government sports award, is sure to add buzz to this year’s list, but the decision is rather odd.
The BCCI is arguing in the Supreme Court that it is an independent and private body and can’t be forced to make the root-and-branch administrative changes recommended by the Justice RM Lodha Committee, which went into the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal and conflict of interest issues.
The Apex court has said the cash-rich BCCI is a public body as it essentially carries out a public function.
Same is the case when it comes to BCCI versus the government. The Board has refused to come under the Right to Information Act., one of the key aspects of the central government’s Sports Bill.
In fact, the BCCI even briefly kept away from making recommendations for the Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards, which was seen as a cautious step to avoid the government forcing it to come under RTI.
But it is not all about entitlement and empowerment. If the nomination of Kohli is accepted, India’s Test captain will become only the third cricketer to get the Khel Ratna since it was established in 1991.
Although he is currently enjoying a golden run with the bat across formats, it will be an occasion to look back at the inconsistency of it all.
Only two cricketers --- Sachin Tendulkar in 1997 and MS Dhoni in 2007 ---- have been given the Khel Ratna. Those nominated but discarded include Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. India’s most successful Test bowler took 10 wickets in a Test innings against eternal rivals Pakistan in 1999.
Although such a feat was achieved only for the second time in the game’s history, the spin great was not picked. Dhanraj Pillay, skipper of the 1998 Asian Games-winning hockey team, won the accolade.
Dravid being one of the game’s great batsmen or his record of captaining India to key overseas Test series wins didn’t weigh in his favour after being recommended in 2005 and 2012.
That brings us to the question whether cricket needs to be included in the list of eligible sports in the first place.
The BCCI, liberated by the fact that it doesn’t need government grants, has refused to fall in line, although it requests authorities to provide security for matches.
The government, though, insisting that cricket should not be exempted from RTI, has gone the distance by making an exception. The eligibility rules bunch winners at the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and other major international meets.
It acknowledges that BCCI is not recognised but welcomes recommendations from it.
“In case of cricket, for which no National Sports Federation has been recognised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, nominations from the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) will be invited,” says the relevant clause.
It further adds: “For cricket and indigenous games, not included in Olympic/Asian Games/Commonwealth Games disciplines, the Selection Committee will take into consideration their individual performances.”
Cricket is a mass game in India, although the argument that few teams play at the highest level is never too far away. But its standing means honouring a cricketer is also crucial to raise the fan base around the awards.