Over the years, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country’s highest sporting award, has been synonymous with controversy. This year has been no exception.
On Tuesday, when the sports ministry’s panel, chaired by Michael Ferreira, named shotgun shooter Ronjan Sodhi for the award, the others in the fray, including paralympic athlete, HN Girisha, winner of India’s only medal at the London Games, were upset. Girisha went to the extent of saying that he would challenge the decision in court.
“Shameful politics was being played and I had not imagined this,” a member of the selection panel later said.
“Initially, the Sports Authority of India officials were supporting Girisha when there was to be a vote between him and (Krishna) Poonia,” the selector said.
“But later after Sodhi was brought back, the SAI members supported him. In fact, there was a tie between Poonia and Sodhi and the SAI officials’ support tilted the balance in Sodhi’s favour,” the selector said.
“Some members even suggested that both Poonia and Sondhi be recommended together as there were earlier instances but it did not happen.”
Not in initial plans
It was learnt that Sodhi wasn’t initially in the race for the Khel Ratna, and Girisha and discus thrower Krishna Poonia were the only two contenders.
Sources told HT that as the day progressed, Sodhi’s name surfaced and soon he became the frontrunner, and Girisha’s case was dropped. It became a two-horse race between Sodhi and Poonia.
Things had turned in Sodhi’s favour with former rifle shooter Anjali Bhagwat joining the 14-member selection panel, the source said.
At one point, the balance even tilted in Poonia’s favour, who finished sixth at the 2012 London Games, but in the end Sodhi was able to garner support of eight members as against Poonia’s six.
Girisha isn’t alone in claiming that the choice is ‘biased’.
Poonia, winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Games women’s discus title, isn’t happy either.
Other members of the panel include Shakti Singh (athletics), Limba Ram (archery), Kripa Shankar (wrestling), Indu Puri (table tennis), Ravi Shastri (cricket), Surinder Khanna (cricket) and Zafar Iqbal (hockey).