The presentation of the National Sports Awards is an annual affair but even more consistent are the controversies which surround it. Each year finds a fresh batch of sportspersons who claim a certain amount of apathy on the part of the selection committee when it comes to the selection of names. But and even more poignant point is that surrounding the selection of athletes for the award in the first place.
From 2014, after a Supreme Court ruling regarding the necessity of a valid system of assessment before names were actually shortlisted for the Arjuna and the Khel Ratna, the points system which had previously been debunked as a flawed scale in 2002, was brought up again. However, this came with its own set of confusions. As per mandates specified by the Sports Ministry, points would be given to respective athletes based on their participation in major tournaments and championships.
The mandate continued with the specifications that medalists at the Olympics and Paralympics would automatically qualify for the awards if the honour of the Khel Ratna had not been conferred upon them previously. But inconsistent awarding last year has created even more confusion than this mandate was meant to solve.
The biggest and most vocal example of it had been Deepa Malik who, last year, has vociferously complained about being overlooked by the committee when it came to including her name in the list of awardees. In the 2016 Paralympics, Malik had clinched a Shotput Silver to become the first female Paralympics medalist from the country. Yet, when it came to awarding her with the necessary award, her contribution was overlooked. Somehow, an already confusing system became even murkier.
When it came to enforcing the points system while drawing out the recipient list for such awards, it appeared that the entire practice of giving out points for World Championships, World Cups and multi-sport tournaments were drawn up by someone who had little to no idea about the relative importance of each of the tournaments. This points system was introduced in 2002 and one closer look at it would be enough to see why it was as flawed as most athletes complained it was.
World Championships, in most sports, are held once in every two years and for this, “proportional” marks would be given for accolades; proportional ofcourse to the other quadrennial events like the major multi-sport championships. Similar coloured medals at both these kinds of championships would end up being given importance in an indiscriminate fashion. The biggest example of this would probably be how a World Championship medal counted for lesser points than an Asian Games medal of the same standing simply because the latter was held more frequently- say once every two years.
First of all, this discounts the fact that an achievement at the World level is in no way at par with winning a medal of the same colour at the continental level. In fact, back in 2003, this was the crux of the controversy which surrounded the exclusion of Anju Bobby George from the list of recipients despite her winning a World Championship medal.
George was duly awarded the Khel Ratna in the 2004 ceremony but the discrepancies surrounding the points system remains. While earlier, the Khel Ratna in particular was reserved for the one outstanding achievement of the year in question, the previous year saw joint winners in the form of multiple Paralympics Gold medalist Devendra Jhajharia and hockey veteran Sardara Singh. The other Gold medalist at the Rio Paralympics, Mariyappan Thangavelu was awarded the Arjuna.
Is it pressure that makes the Ministry succumb to awarding multiple people with a prize that was meant to be exclusive and selective? Should there be some mandate in place where the Ministry can put a cap to the number of athletes given the Arjuna each year? And if the points system is so flawed, what is the alternative?
We are nearing yet another year of announcements for the National Sports Awards. Only time will tell whether a better system is in the horizon.