In a first, sportspersons receive Khel Ratna, Arjuna virtually

The Sports Awards, which are conferred every year on the birth anniversary of hockey legend Dhyan Chand, had a different feel to it this time.
Manu Bhaker won the Arjuna Award 2020. She won two gold medals at the 2018 ISSF World Cup & is the youngest Indian to win a gold medal.(Twitter/Sai Media)
Manu Bhaker won the Arjuna Award 2020. She won two gold medals at the 2018 ISSF World Cup & is the youngest Indian to win a gold medal.(Twitter/Sai Media)
Updated on Aug 29, 2020 10:00 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAvishek Roy

Wearing a PPE kit over her saree, women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal took tentative steps as she emerged from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru on Saturday. After her car was sanitised, Rampal was ready to leave for the National Sports Awards ceremony at the Vidhana Soudha in the heart of the city, where the award winners were connected to the President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju at Vigyan Bhavan here.

This was the scene across 11 designated centres in various cities, where 60 of the 74 award winners were conferred the Sports Awards in a virtual ceremony.

They missed the grandeur of the President’s House, the applause at the Durbar Hall and above all, getting their trophies from the hands of the President. Instead, they had to undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests - some of them, including Vinesh Phogat, tested positive and had to miss the ceremony - wear PPE kits at a few venues, and wear masks for the occasion. Some travelled long distances by road to reach the designated centres a couple of days before the ceremony and follow strict protocols.

The Sports Awards, which are conferred every year on the birth anniversary of hockey legend Dhyan Chand, had a different feel to it this time. Hours before the ceremony, the death of former athletics coach Purushotham Rai, 79, who was to receive the Dronacharya (lifetime) award in Bengaluru, came as a shock.

“It came as a shock. He was there with us, looking normal and came to participate in the dress rehearsal yesterday (Friday). Everyone felt sad,” said hockey coach and former international Jude Felix, who was conferred the Dronacharya in Bengaluru. “But life goes on. It was very satisfying for me to get this award. It will encourage me to guide youngsters to win more medals for India,” he said.

Undeterred by the circumstances, the athletes celebrated the moment while maintaining distance. The ceremony went off without a glitch with the athletes facing the camera following the announcement of their names and accomplishments. They greeted the President and the Sports Minister before moving out. The citations were given at the respective centres while the trophies will be handed over later.

“I am very excited to be awarded the Khel Ratna,” said Rampal, who became the first woman hockey player to receive the nation’s highest sporting honour. “It is a huge honour for a woman hockey player. I thank the sports minister and Hockey India for recommending my name.

“I know because of Covid we had to take safety precautions. It is a different feeling when you get the award at the President’s House. However, this time it was a different experience. The precautionary measures taken were necessary for athletes,” she said.

An unprecedented five Khel Ratna awards were announced this year. However, only three - Rampal, Commonwealth Games table tennis champion Manika Batra and para athlete Mariyappan Thangavelu - were conferred the award on Saturday. World championship bronze medallist Vinesh Phogat had to pull out on Friday after she and her coach OP Dahiya, whose name figured in the Dronacharya roll, tested positive for Covid-19. They were scheduled to join the ceremony from Sonepat.

Cricketer Rohit Sharma also missed the ceremony because he is in UAE for the IPL. Besides five Khel Ratnas, there were 27 Arjuna Award recipients. Altogether 14 of the 74 award winners could not attend the function. Shuttler Satwiksairaj Rankireddy tested positive for Covid-19 and could not receive the Arjuna.

President Kovind said Covid-19 had adversely affected the sports world but expressed confidence that the players would emerge mentally stronger from the crisis.

“Players and coaches might be less motivated due to lack of practice and competition which pose a huge challenge to their mental and physical preparations. I am confident they will emerge mentally stronger,” he said, expressing his wish that India would finish in the top-10 at the 2028 Olympics.

Rijiju also announced enhancement of prize money in four of the seven categories of the National Sports and Adventure Awards.

The prize money for the Khel Ratna has been increased to 25 lakh from 7.5 lakh, while the Arjuna awardees will receive 15 lakh from the earlier 5 lakh. The Dronacharya (Lifetime) awardees, who were earlier given 5 lakh will now get 15 lakh, while Dronacharya (Regular) will get Rs10 lakh instead of Rs5 lakh. The Dhyanchand awardees will get Rs10 lakh from the previous 5 lakh.

“The prize money for the awards was last reviewed in 2008. It should be reviewed once every 10 years. If professionals in every field have seen an enhancement in their earnings, why not our sportspersons,” said Rijiju.

List of awardees:

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award: Rohit Sharma (cricket), Mariyappan Thangavelu (para athletics), Manika Batra (table tennis), Vinesh Phogat (wrestling), Rani Rampal (hockey)

Dronacharya Award (Lifetime category): Dharmendra Tiwary (archery), Purushotham Rai (athletics), Shiv Singh (boxing), Romesh Pathania (hockey), Krishan Kumar Hooda (kabaddi), Vijay Bhalchandra Munishwar (para powerlifting), Naresh Kumar (tennis), OP Dahiya (wrestling).

Dronacharya Award (Regular category): Jude Felix (hockey), Yogesh Malviya (mallakhamb), Jaspal Rana (shooting), Kuldeep Kumar Handoo (wushu), Gaurav Khanna (para badminton)

Arjuna Award: Atanu Das (archery), Dutee Chand (athletics), Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy (badminton), Chirag Chandrasekhar Shetty (badminton), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (basketball), Subedar Manish Kaushik (boxing), Lovlina Borgohain (boxing), Ishant Sharma (cricket), Deepti Sharma (cricket), Sawant Ajay Anant (equestrian), Sandesh Jhingan (football), Aditi Ashok (golf), Akashdeep Singh (hockey), Deepika (hockey), Deepak (kabaddi), Kale Sarika Sudhakar (kho kho), Dattu Baban Bhokanal (rowing), Manu Bhaker (shooting), Saurabh Chaudhary (shooting), Madhurika Suhas Patkar (table tennis), Divij Sharan (tennis), Shiva Keshavan (winter sports), Divya Kakran (wrestling), Rahul Aware (wrestling), Suyash Narayan Jadhav (para swimming), Sandeep Para (athletics) Manish Narwal (para shooting)

Dhyan Chand Award: Kuldip Singh Bhullar (athletics), Jincy Philips (athletics), Pradeep Gandhe (badminton), Trupti Murgunde (badminton), N. Usha (boxing), Lakha Singh (boxing), Sukhvinder Singh Sandhu (football), Ajit Singh (hockey), Manpreet Singh (kabaddi), J. Ranjith Kumar (para athletics), Satyaprakash Tiwari (para badminton), Manjeet Singh (rowing), Late Shri Sachin Nag (swimming), Nandan P Bal (tennis), Netarpal Hooda (wrestling).

Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards 2019: Anita Devi, Sarfraz Singh, Taka Tamut, Narender Singh (withheld) Keval Hiren Kakka, Satendra Singh (All Land Adventure), Gajanand Yadava (Air Adventure), Magan Bissa (Life Time Achievement).

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy: Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: Lakshya Institute and Army Sports Institute for Identification and Nurturing of Budding and Young Talent; Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Ltd. for Encouragement to sports through Corporate Social Responsibility; Air Force Sports Control Board for Employment of sportspersons and sports welfare measures; International Institute of Sports Management (IISM) for Sports for Development.

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