It has become an unbecoming characteristic of the annual exercise. It is one thing to cook up excuses after an athlete comes a cropper on the competitive battlefield and quite another when they condemn all and sundry after missing out on the Arjuna awards roll of honour. This ‘sour-grapes’ tendency is loathsome because those missing the bus tend to point an accusing finger at the selection panel and almost charge them with being biased. Irrespective of whether it is a failure of the system or not, it is common knowledge that there is tremendous outside influence because of which credentials of the more genuine contenders are tossed out of the window.
Not long ago, a visibly disgruntled Gagan Narang almost contemplated retirement when his four-gold showing at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was bypassed and Saina Nehwal was conferred the Rajiv Khel Ratna. Even more outlandishly preposterous is that the fickle-minded panel ‘gifted’ him the honour soon thereafter. The same yardstick cannot be taken when one takes into consideration the way Rohan Bopanna is being ignored in what was his best showing on the circuit. One should blame the unprofessional manner the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has been functioning. A silver lining is that Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel has entered the picture and is ostensibly striving to put an end to all such nonsensical practices.
Whether Goel succeeds in his avowed mission or not is not something to be deliberated upon but one should appreciate the bravado with which he intends to go about the cleansing operation. It is good that his intentions sound pragmatic because while assuring to rework on the entire selection process, the Minister has exposed the rampant corruption that prevails both at the nomination and selection levels. Although it may sound revolutionary, it will be a good development if he can actually revise the selection criteria and give an opportunity to meritorious athletes who were not nominated by their respective associations. The likes of the thrice unlucky Bopanna would certainly welcome it and would be hoping that such a system could be put into practice sooner than later.
Giving the selection committee suo moto decision-making authority will go a long way in eliminating chances of foul-play. Such eleventh-hour inclusions will do a world of good for players, coaches and administrators. The demand for a Khel Ratna to Mithali Raj following the epoch-making World Cup outing fell flat because her name was neither nominated by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) nor by any other entity.
To be fair to the selection panel, they went by the Rule Book, which mandates that only those with genuine nominations would be considered for the award. It is time to address the larger issue – the parameters are all wrong and obsolete. Is it necessary that Arjuna awards have to be given in all categories every year? It is ending more as a thanksgiving gesture and less as a celebration of excellence in sport. That is the unkindest cut of it all.