The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) on Friday finalised the winners of this year's national sports awards. In an unprecedented move, five names were finalised for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, while a whopping 29 were added for Arjuna.
Star cricketer Rohit Sharma, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, and women's hockey captain Rani Rampal, paddler Manika Batra, Paralympic gold-winning high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu have been picked for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. For the Arjuna, India pacer Ishant Sharma, teen shooting sensations Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker, sprinter Dutee Chand, footballer Sandesh Jhinghan, woman cricketer Deepti Sharma, woman boxer Lovlina Borgohain and Indian luge legend Shiva Keshavan are some of the big names to be awarded.
However, despite defying the numbers of selecting the players, none of the chess players from our country could find themselves on the list of awards - Khel Ratna, Arjuna or Dronacharya. In fact, the last chess player to win a national award was in 2013. In the last seven years, India has produced several exceptional chess players who have shone on multiple occasions and brought laurels for the nation, however, the Indian government has overlooked them.
As per the MYAS, Arjuna award is given to sportspersons for their outstanding achievements. Every National Sports Federation (NSF) nominates the names of three players whom they deem fit for the Arjuna Award. The panel looks through all the nominations and the awardees are selected.
A person eligible for Arjuna should fall under the following categories:-
1. Olympic Games/Asian Games/Commonwealth Games/World Cup/World Championship disciplines and cricket or any equivalent recognized international Tournament.
2. Indigenous Games.
3. Sports for physically challenged.
While cricket has a separate category if its own, no other sport gets a similar treatment. Chess is not the part Olympics, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games but has its own Olympiad, Asian and Commonwealth games. Throughout the history of Arjuna awards, 17 chess players have received the honour since 1961. Besides, Viswanathan Anand was the first person to be awarded the Khel Ratna. Despite the successes in recent years, Indian chess players have been neglected.
The last 3 Arjuna Award recipients in Chess are: 2009 Tania Sachdev (Delhi), 2010 Parimarjan Negi (Delhi) and 2013 Abhijeet Gupta. No Arjuna awards to Chess players since then even though India has produced so many strong players since then who were simply ignored.
— Ramesh RB (@Rameshchess) July 11, 2020
Grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi is who is participating in the Chess Olympiad, is currently ranked 24th in the world. He is the youngest ever Indian to break into the 2700 Elo zone. With a career-high ranking of 22, Gujrathi was part of the team that won the Gold at the Asian Nations Cup. Besides, he won several world-class tournaments like Tata Steel Challengers, Biel Grandmasters, among others. He won the bronze medal at the Asian Individual in 2017.
Baskaran Adhiban is the 5th Indian to break into the Elo 2700 mark. He was part of the Indian Olympiad team that won the historic bronze medal in 2014, he was part of the team that won the Gold medal at the Asian Nations Cup in 2016. He also won the gold medal at the top board of the World Team Championships 2019.
India's top woman chess player, Padmini Rout is a four-time national champion. She has won the Asian Championship in 2018 and she also won the individual gold medal at the World Chess Olympiad.
I had applied after Commonwealth, Asian, National titles etc and still didn't get. Many more deserving champions in chess. It's a pity that @Rameshchess hasn't already got the Dronacharya award. @Media_SAI @RijijuOffice @KirenRijiju
— Padmíní Rout (@acciochess) July 11, 2020
India's chess fraternity has a vast pool of talent, and in the upcoming years more players would be eligible for the Arjuna and other national awards, now the question lies whether the government will stop overlooking them and recognise their efforts of making the nation proud.