When Tarundeep Rai and I got the Arjuna Award in 2005, it was the first time in 14 years that an archer had got the recognition. At the time, Limba Ram was in the selection committee and there used to frequent meetings. My name didn’t appear on the first list or the second. It was only when the third list was released that I found my name on it. So, it was an honour earned after a long wait. Nowadays, and particularly this year, I see a lot of athletes getting premature recognition while some have been completely ignored. There has to be some parity in the process.
Firstly, I have to applaud the selection committee’s decision to not confer the Khel Ratna this year. However, at the same time I wonder why they can’t replicate the attitude towards the Arjuna Award. No honour can be easy to achieve. It has to be earned. If they didn’t find any one worthy of the Khel Ratna then why this need to name so many Arjuna Award recipients every year?
Since the Commonwealth and Asian Games are this year, I’m sure there will be more nominations next year. We should be flexible in that way — less number of Arjuna Awards this year, possibly more next year. It has been done before as well. It should be seen that the Arjuna Awards don’t become a yearly quota that needs to be fulfilled. We should ensure that the Arjuna isn’t doled out.
Rigid benchmarks too should be set to decide the recipients. When I got the Arjuna, our performance, national and international, over the past three years was considered. I don’t know what the current points system is but I feel different yardsticks should be implemented in judging athletes.
The benchmark should be higher in sports in which India have more participation internationally. For example, in the case of archers, the minimum yardstick should be performance at the Asian level.
But when you consider football, the benchmark has to be lowered since we hardly play international meets. Otherwise, no footballer will get this award. We need to have this system in place so that we can differentiate between sports according to recognition.
Only performance should be the criterion when it comes to choosing the recipients. If it comes to a situation where two athletes are on equal points, the senior of the two should be chosen since the junior can be recommended next year. But it shouldn’t be delayed to the extent that the junior gets discouraged. After all, the main purpose of this honour is to inspire athletes to do better. I have seen many athletes getting disappointed to the level of thinking of quitting the sport. We should try and prevent that.
I also feel more current and former players should be involved in the selection process. If possible, let’s have one player from each sport. At least it will ensure a healthy debate before a hopefully unanimous decision.
The writer is the only Indian archer to win gold in a World Cup final