Play by the rules

After days of protests that showed athletes and administrators in a bad light, the decks have been cleared to give away the national sports awards at Rashtrapati Bhavan on August 31.

The ceremony was put off by two days from August 29, the national sports day, when it is traditionally held, due to the sports minister's non-availability on the earlier date.

Although the ministry of sports hands over the task of choosing the recipients to a panel of former sportsmen to avoid allegations of favouritism, this move has not stopped controversies from erupting. Instead of being an occasion to celebrate talent, complaints by those who are left out take the sheen off the prestigious awards.

This time around, discus thrower Krishna Poonia, a 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, lobbied for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country's highest sports award and appealed to sports minister Jitendra Singh to exercise his prerogative and give her the award along with double trap shooter Ronjon Sodhi.

The Arjuna awards list too had claimants beyond those chosen, like former volleyball captain Tom Joseph. HN Girisha, a high jump silver medallist at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, too had pleaded his case for the Arjuna Award after he wasn't considered for the Khel Ratna. However, the ministry, though under a lot of pressure, must be lauded for sticking to the original list chosen by the panel headed by former billiards world champion, Michael Ferreira.

It seems that the controversy is over for now but the problem remains unsolved. Nomination rights are given to state governments, various departments, agencies and officials to ensure that no player is left out but this process is also leading to lobbying.

Former track queen PT Usha correctly says that the sports ministry must end the lobbying and the government should not be adamant about keeping the list to a certain length. The eligibility criteria should be clear and followed scrupulously.

Indian sports, still struggling to make a mark of its own with its administration mired in corruption, can do without controversies like these. Maybe the clamour for the awards will lessen if the handsome cash prize that goes with the memento is removed.

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