Tennis ace Sania Mirza is set to be conferred the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for the year 2014-15.
Even though her Wimbledon performance last month — she bagged her maiden Grand Slam women’s doubles title with Martina Hingis — will not be counted, her performance in other major events makes her the favourite.
Sania, recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2004 and Padma Shri in 2006, won gold in mixed doubles with Saketh Myneni and bronze in women’s doubles with Prarthana Thombare at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. She also won the US Open mixed doubles title with Bruno Soares last year.
HT has reliably learnt that the sports ministry took the decision to forward Sania’s name to the awards committee on Friday. The panel will meet shortly to decide on the list of awardees.
The ministry took the decision after the All India Tennis Association (AITA) missed the deadline for sending the application by over two months. As per the guidelines the last date “for the receipt of nominations will be 30th April or last working day of April.”
A ministry source said the decision to nominate Sania didn’t mean that she would get the award, “as it is up to the committee to decide”. “The ministry is only condoning the delay (on part of the tennis federation) in receipt and forwarding her application to the committee. That is all,” said the source.
The ministry has used clause 5.3 under the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award Scheme to nominate Sania. The rule says, “The government reserves the right to nominate up to two sportspersons in deserving cases where no such nominations have been received from the agencies mentioned under the Scheme.”
Sania’s entry skews the field for the 11 other applicants. Vikas Gowda (discus), Tintu Luka (800m), Dipika Pallikal (squash), Devendra Jhajhariya (paralympic javelin), Sardar Singh (hockey) and Abhishek Verma (archery) are some of the names in the fray.
The award has generated a lot of heat in the last two years with committees headed by Michael Ferreira and Kapil Dev drawing flak. Discus thrower Krishna Poonia had openly revolted in 2013 after double-trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi was recommended. It was widely reported that former Khel Ratna awardee, rifle shooter Anjali Vedpathak, reached the meeting late and impressed upon the members to vote again. Last year, the award wasn’t conferred to anyone.