There is much talk of encouraging sportspersons and annual kabaddi spectacles garnished with Bollywood stars, but here's a reality check as to where sports stand on the priority list of the Punjab government.
Waking up after six years in power, the SAD-BJP regime announced on Saturday that it was going to hold a function here on April 29 to give away the 'annual' Maharaja Ranjit Singh Awards (MRSA) -- the state's highest sports honour - to those chosen from 2005 to 2010.
And the neglect remains the same no matter who's ruling. Never held in the earlier SAD-BJP tenure (2007-12), the ceremony was last organised by the Congress regime in 2006. Even then, backlog of eight years (1997-2004) was cleared.
The award was instituted in 1978 and is for a maximum of 15 players every year who get cash reward besides a plaque. The cash bounty was doubled by the Akali regime to Rs. 2 lakh before the 2012 assembly elections - it even figured in the manifesto - and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who holds the sports portfolio, had a strange logic as to why the delay was good. "Now, players will get the increased prize money!" he said, formally announcing the date at a press conference here on Saturday. But even after the April 29 function, there will be a backlog of 2011 and 2012, winners for which are still to be picked.
One of the winners from 2005 commented, "Though it's better late than never, what's the sense of achievement when you get an award eight years after the performance? What if MLAs were declared winners eight years after the election victory?" He underlined that the government "is only bothered about its own publicity, not the least about sports".
WHY THE DELAY
It was only in 2010 that the sports department invited applications for the awards to clear a six-year backlog; a committee chose winners early in 2011. Sitting on the list since, Sukhbir kept trumpeting how he had doubled the cash purse.
For the function to actually take place, maximum publicity was the chief criterion, said sports officials requesting anonymity.
The department was directed to ensure availability of both Sukhbir and his father, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal; besides booking a large-capacity venue -- Tagore Theatre in Sector 18 - in capital Chandigarh, which would also "ensure good media coverage".
Even April 29 was fixed after a couple of changes in the past two months, it is learnt.
Among the winners
Prominent among those who'd get the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award are Commonwealth Games participant Puneet Rana (swimming, 2005); shooters Avneet Kaur Sidhu Hundal (Arjuna Awardee) and Harveen Sarao (World University Games gold medallist) for 2007; Arjuna Awardee judoka Yashpal Solanki for 2009; CWG, Asian Games hockey gold medallist Gurbaj Singh and CWG boxeing bronze winner Amandeep Singh for 2010.
On prominent pending issues on the sports front, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal said he'd take action in three months:
" Since Jan 2011, no Punjab player has got cash award for national or international medal
" Since last year, trainees at state-run academies haven't got kits.
"For 3 years, Punjab has failed to get benefits of Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) schemes; last year, no competition at village or block level was organised