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When Milkha Singh refused to accept the Arjuna Award

The day the Flying Sikh stood for something more than just mere recognition and felicitation.

When Milkha Singh refused to accept the Arjuna Award

C.C. Chengappa

Updated: 19 Jun 2021 6:37 AM GMT

For a man who won around 77 of the 80 races that he ran, Milkha Singh was duly credited and awarded with several laurels from around the world for his achievements. However, it is pertinent to note that he took a stand when it came to receiving awards and always preferred merit and quality over quantity. One major award that he refused was the Arjuna Award and in a strongly worded letter to the sports minister Uma Bharti, Milkha Singh expressed the sentiment of a true Indian sportsperson.

Back in 2001, the notification for Arjuna Awardees were released by the government of India. Milkha Singh took to this strongly and notified the government of his intention to decline the award and listed several reasons for the same. The foremost was the reputation of the Arjuna Award as he felt that ''It is of no use giving such awards to such persons who might produce one freak performance during their lifetime". His intention was not to demean other athletes but was targeted to the government as he wished for them to recognize his achievements on a higher level than the mandated point at that time. Moreover, he also highlighted the blatant drug use within the Indian sports circuit that was also resulting in Indian athletes barely winning anything abroad but everything in India. What use was an award that did not delve into the merit of the achievement in any sense?

Receiving the Punjab University Khel Ratna Award(Source Wikimedia Commons)

The intention of his letter was to also highlight the selection committee for the awards. He felt that those with the responsibility were not working in consonance with an objective framework in place. "I personally feel that you had good intentions, but the officers holding the sports portfolios for a long period had not apprised your good self the pros and cons of each awardee vis-a-vis the guidelines laid down for the Arjuna Award,". This was another attack on the incompetence of the government is not giving due recognition to those who deserved it as opposed to those who were within the ambit of a subjective outlook towards giving the Arjuna Award.

One must not be swayed by the strong words against the government of the Flying Sikh. He also mentioned the love and adoration that he had for his country and he was only rejecting the Award as he felt it was injustice towards his achievements as an individual. To him, it was "as if the government is trying to give me a matric certificate after an MA degree."

He took this one step further in 2014 when he said that the award was 'bogus'. He accused the awards of being given to please associations rather than recognize sportspersons. His arguments made complete sense given that he did not wish to be brought onto a specific level and compared to people who had not achieved as much as he had.

Back in 2001, Milkha Singh highlighted a glaring discrepancy in the government's sporting outlook by rejecting the Arjuna Award. It was his decision that made headlines for all the right reasons. It was not just about winning another accolade for him. He wished to emphasize quality recognition and not compulsive or obligatory awards for sportspersons in India.

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