Why Indian women’s cricket captain Mithali Raj deserves a Khel Ratna
The BCCI’s reluctance to nominate Indian women’s cricket captain Mithali Raj — who was on the verge of creating a world record when the nominations were being decided — reeks of sexismUpdated: Aug 03, 2017, 17:10 IST
She may have won the adulation of millions and shattered the world record for scoring the most runs in ODI cricket during the recent World Cup in England, but Mithali Raj continues to get a raw deal from sports administrators back home. At least that is the impression one gets from the snub that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has given to India’s women’s cricket captain by not nominating her for the Khel Ratna this year.
The omission becomes even more glaring when one considers that the only two cricketers nominated by the BCCI for the Ratna were Sachin Tendulkar in 1997-98 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2007. Not taking anything away from the achievements of these two legends, neither of them had led the team in a World Cup final, at the time they received the award. Not only has Ms Raj steered the team to two Cup finals (in 2005 and 2017), she was on the cusp of creating a world record at the time of the deadline to send in the nominations. It would not be too much of a stretch to infer that women’s cricket always gets a stepmotherly treatment when it comes to recognition and rewards. Although the deadline for nominations ended on April 30, in light of outstanding performances in subsequent time periods, there have been instances where other non-cricket associations have pushed for names well after the deadline. Last year, for instance, following their medal-winning exploits in Rio, the sports ministry had allowed for belated nominations for shuttler PV Sindhu (who won the silver in badminton) and grappler Sakshi Malik (who bagged the bronze in wrestling). Plus, the government awarded gymnast Dipa Karmakar who had a fourth-place finish and pistol shooter Jitu Rai who finished eighth. It was the first time since the award was instituted in 1991 that the Khel Ratna was awarded to four sportspersons. This could certainly have been done for Ms Raj, an athlete who was even felicitated by the Prime Minister himself.
Instead the, the panel appointed by the ministry of sports to shortlist those worthy of the Khel Ratna has recommended two highly deserving men – former hockey captain Sardara Singh and Paralympic gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia -- for the Khel Ratna. All this makes us wonder whether merit — which should be the primary requisite to get the highest sporting honour in the country — is the only criterion for becoming a Khel Ratna? How many times does a woman athlete have to prove herself before the BCCI acknowledges that she deserves the same recognition as her male counterparts for outstanding achievements?