When I started pursuing the sport (boxing) seriously, the Arjuna Award was one of my main goals. I believe every athlete who has achieved success in the international arena aspires for the Arjuna, given the aura surrounding the award and the hallowed ambience in which it is presented. The grandeur simply makes the athlete feel special and I feel that more than the money, it is the statuette and the scroll handed out, which is more valuable for sportspersons.
So, you can well understand how big these awards are in every sportsperson's life. But the controversies in selection have affected its reputation not just in the eyes of budding players but also the common man. It is extremely difficult to justify to the media --- which follows every meeting of the selection committee judiciously --- and the public --- which is no longer gullible --- even one questionable selection.
So, why do these awards give rise to controversies? The sports ministry may have instituted committees to shortlist candidates for the Arjunas, the Khel Ratnas and the Dronacharyas, but it hasn't incorporated a mechanism to ensure the committee members do their job in a thorough and professional manner.
In the event, lack of transparency and accountability is leading to controversies. What procedures and yardsticks are being followed by the panel are not in public domain. It's high time we introduce a system, which is not just in public domain but also gives a detailed account of the achievements of each and every player vying for the award.
Things in public domain can easily be scrutinised and it gives ample time to dissatisfied or 'short-changed' individuals to file objections. The other thing that needs to be strictly followed by the ministry at the time of announcing the award is to mention the individual's achievements.
That said, there is also the need for something called 'customisation'. By that I mean that every sport should have its own point system to pick the best player.
Indians traditionally participate in three major multi-discipline events --- Olympic Games, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. There are also the regional games such as the SAF Games, but I would not like to discuss them because the event does not match up to these big three. For an Indian grappler to win medals in the CWG is like a cakewalk but a tough task in the Asian Games.
Conversely in athletics, a CWG medal has a different aura, compared to the Asian Games where winning medals in track and field events is relatively easy. So, the points system should take all these parameters into account before an empirical system is evolved.
For team games, the points system should be different from individual sports. Besides, there should be points for Olympic participation and, further, for advancing to, say the quarterfinals or the semifinals. With the Olympic Games being the pinnacle of sport, an athlete would have done something to qualify in the first place.
In my view, we should also not restrict performance to the last three-four years. Why not analyse an athlete's entire sporting career. Arjuna awardees become brand ambassador of that particular sport, so the players getting them should have unimpeachable credentials.