Who do they think they are? That’s the question being asked both by sports achievers and the people on the street after Padma Shri awardees Harbhajan Singh and MS Dhoni skipped the ceremony on Tuesday.
Later, Bhajji joked that the next time he gets an award, he would up turn up two days early. Not many are laughing. And Mahi never bothered to say anything.
Badminton champ Saina Nehwal doesn’t mince her words. “If they [cricketers] can’t attend such an event, they really don’t deserve it [the award],” she states. “In any case, cricketers and film stars in this country get so much attention that they hardly care about anything else. They can get away with anything.” City golfer Nalini Singh feels the same way. “In fact, this [absence] is an insult to the fans who put them on such a high pedestal,” says Nalini.
Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar, our poster boys from last year’s Beijing Olympics who were overlooked in the Padma awards list, sound exasperated. “Kyun nahi gaye woh, yeh wohi hi jaane,” says Vijender, unwilling to go too deep into a subject that must hurt still. “Main iske bare mein kuchh bolunga to fir khaamoka controversy mein taang ghusana hoga.”
Akhil speaks plainly. “Abhi bhi un logo ke hi charcha kiya ja raha hai,” he says, referring to the amount of limelight the cricketers are hogging for even their negative action. He also hints that let alone personally receiving the award, the cricketers may not have deserved it in the first place. “Selectors ko sochna chahiye tha kisse [award] de rahe hain,” says a clearly miffed Akhil.
Fall from grace?
“Do these cricketers feel they are too big for all this?” asks a journalist who was present at both the promotional events that Bhajji attended the morning after he missed the award ceremony in Delhi — incidentally, at the news meets held to promote Brand Harbhajan, the player cited “family issues” as the reason for skipping the ceremony.
“But they have all the time for endorsements,” points out college student Prashant Mallick, a cricket fan. “These people are youth icons, and if they behave in such a way, what will the young generation learn?” asks Vaishali Pathak, an advertising consultant. “They should get their priorities right.”