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President gives Arjuna awards

The most prestigious trophy for sporting excellence – Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – remained in the closet. And, the trophies that came out on Friday didn’t evoke the response one is used to witnessing in the hallowed precincts of the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Despite the selection committee ‘racking’ its head to select the 15 best athletes of the country, the national sports award ceremony was a tepid affair. Not just because the events leading up to the annual occasion got caught in controversies but also because there were hardly any stars to light up the function.

Off-spinner R Ashwin, who could have added some glitter, could not attend as he is currently part of the India squad playing the ODI series in England. In his absence, the few notable faces were that of pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, for whom it was a double delight as the award coincided with her birthday, and Anirban Lahiri, the only Indian golfer in the world top-100.

Though the usual fanfare was there and the ceremony’s long-standing tradition was followed to the hilt, the sports ministry officials and selection committee members present for the function wouldn’t have been able to shrug off the unsavoury incidents in the run-up to the event.

Boxer Manoj Kumar dragged the ministry and selection panel to court after a controversial decision to award the Arjuna to compatriot Jai Bhagwan.

The selection criterion was severely criticised by sports luminaries, while a lot many athletes felt their files didn’t even reach the selection panel’s table. Not to forget the huge outcry in the squash fraternity for bestowing the honour on the unknown Anaka Alankamany.

The occasion, then, was a sombre affair with the maximum cheers coming for the 25-year-old Heena, currently ranked fifth in the world. For her, the Arjuna was a befitting birthday gift. “To get the award on my birthday is something I couldn’t have imagined,” said the gold-medal winner at the World Cup Finals in Munich last year.

For shuttler PV Sindhu’s father-cum-mentor, PV Ramana, the joy knew no bounds. “I hope Sindhu improves upon her bronze-medal performance at the 2013 World Championship in Guangzhou and clinches silver – or better still a gold (at the Worlds currently underway at Copenhagen, Denmark),” he said. The former international volleyball player is keenly following the progress of his daughter who reached the semi-final on Friday.

With the Asian Games uppermost on her mind, 2010 Asian Games bronze-medallist Tintu Luka said her focus this time would be on winning gold at Incheon. However, the former sprint queen PT Usha’s protege’s performance at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games – Tintu couldn’t even make it to the final in her pet event – doesn’t evoke much enthusiasm.

Much like the awards ceremony on Friday, which concluded with the national anthem, the chorus emerging from the Durbar Hall was one for ringing in sweeping changes in the system.

The awardees:

Arjuna award: Akhilesh Varma (archery), Tintu Luka (athletics), HN Girisha (paralympics), V Diju (badminton), Geetu Ann Jose (basketball), Jai Bhagwan (boxing), Ravichandran Ashwin (cricket), Anirban Lahiri (golf), Mamta Pujari (kabaddi), Saji Thomas (rowing), Heena Sidhu (shooting), Anaka Alankamany (squash), Tom Joseph (volleyball), Renubala Chanu (weightlifting) and Sunil Rana (wrestling).

Dronacharya award: Mahabir Prasad (wrestling), N Lingappa (athletics – lifetime), G Manoharan (boxing – lifetime), Gurcharan Singh Gogi (judo – lifetime), Jose Jacob (rowing – lifetime).

Dhyan Chand award: Gurmail Singh (hockey), K P Thakkar (swimming – diving), Zeeshan Ali (tennis).

Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar: 1.Employment of sportspersons and sports welfare measures – ONGC; 2.Community Sports – identification and nurturing of budding/young talent Jindal Steel Works; 3.Establishment and management of sports academies of excellence – Guru Hanuman Akhara.

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