Star wrestler Vinesh Phogat was on Tuesday put in contention for ‘Khel Ratna’ while World Championship medallists Rahul Aware and Olympic-bound Deepak Punia were nominated for the Arjuna award alongside Sakshi Malik and two others by the national federation.
Vinesh, the only Indian woman wrestler to have qualified for the Tokyo Games, was an easy pick but surprisingly the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has sent as many as five applications for Arjuna and four each for Dronacharya and Dhyanchand awards.
Though Sakshi Malik has not much to show in the last three years, the WFI chose not to reject her candidature. Leave aside dishing out strong performances, the Rio Olympic bronze winner is struggling to even get past juniors in her category.
World silver winner Deepak Punia, making a transition from junior to senior circuit, and Rahul Aware, who won a bronze in Nur Sultan, are deserving candidates. However, the WFI also nominated Sandeep Tomar and Greco Roman wrestler Naveen. It’s a surprising decision since their applications, like Sakshi, are not backed by performance. She is already a recipient of Khel Ratna (2016).
Asked about the wholesale nominations, WFI Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar said, “We have returned a few applications as well. The committee would scrutinise all applications, we have done what, as federation, we could have done for wrestlers.”
The WFI has nominated Virender Kumar, who has been credited for shaping the career of Deepak Punia and Ravi Dahiya, another world medallist, for the Dronacharya along with national women’s coach Kuldeep Malik. Kuldeep is a long serving coach, who oversees the national camp in Lucknow. He has been credited for the rise of Sakshi.
O P Yadav, a SAI coach, and Sujit Mann have also been nominated for Dronacharya. For the Dhyan Chand award, Jai Prakash, Anil Kumar, Dushyant Sharma and Mukesh Khatri have been nominated.
A panel formed by the Sports Ministry will shortlist the nominations received from various national federations with the awards to be presented on National Sports Day, August 29. List of candidates for awards: Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Vinesh Phogat. Arjuna Award: Deepak Punia, Rahul Aware, Sakshi Malik, Sandeep Tomar, Naveen. Dronacharya Award: Virender Kumar, Kuldeep Malik, OP Yadav, Sujit Mann. Dhyan Chand Award: Jai Prakash, Anil Kumar, Dushyant Sharma, Mukesh Khatri.