Let’s be very clear: the Arjuna is an award for performance and not a freebie. And, I strongly feel that applications should not be invited for it. Rather, the sports ministry should have a team of experts who analyse performances and, based on that, shortlist players.
We have a strong force of coaches --- national and foreign --- and a rich pool of sundry experts whose feedback can come in handy to shortlist athletes. Not to forget the national sports federations (NSFs) whose members can give valuable inputs provided they are not tinged with bias. The NSF experts are the ones who, if they have the right intent, can thoroughly screen the athletes, because they keep track of national and international performances. But, again I would like to emphasise on the word ‘unbiased’, because a lot of times heart rules over the head.
Neutrality is a virtue and every federation should ensure that only the best athletes are recommended for the award. May a time, players don’t enjoy cordial relations with the federation and the vindictiveness shows when the names are being forwarded for the awards. Athletes with lesser achievements are preferred over deserving ones. This is a very wrong practice.
We — by that I mean people like me who follow sport and the not-so-die-hard fans — chafe at controversies arising during this time of the year, but we don’t make an effort to change the system. But, with controversies growing bigger and bigger with each passing year, it’s high time we effected a change in the current format.
The ministry has a mechanism in place and it makes a conscious effort to constitute a committee with new eminent faces every year. Still there are controversies, and people challenge the decisions in court. This means, there is a loophole that needs to be plugged urgently.
My opinion is that no undeserving player should get the award, because once the standard has been lowered, then, with each passing year, less deserving players will expect the award and see it as their birth right. In the same vein, I would like to add that no deserving player should be left out, because whenever an athlete with credentials is deprived, it sends a wrong signal to the sports fraternity.
The technicalities of the points system too need to be fine-tuned so that talented athletes competing in individual events and their counterparts in team events don’t get judged differently.
What I mean is that the same criteria cannot be applied for individual and team disciplines. In individual sports, one has a brighter chance of winning medals and a player can even win more than one medal in a given championship. In a team game, there will be some players who are extremely talented. But, when it comes to the overall standing of the team they are not of that level and might miss medals. So for team games, the points system should be different.
The writer is a former India hockey captain.