India cricketer Rohit Sharma has been bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award by the sports ministry. His teammate has been awarded the Arjuna Award, while India Women all-rounder Deepti Sharma. Rohit has become the fourth Indian cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar (1998), MS Dhoni (2007) and Virat Kohli (2018) to be honoured with this award.
Last week, the Justice (retd) Mukundakam Sharma-led selection committee had recommended 29 names for the Arjuna Award to the Sports Ministry.
Along with Rohit, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Paralympic gold-winner Mariyappan Thangavelu, TT player Manika Batra, and women's hockey team captain Rani Rampal were also awarded the Khel Ratna award, the ministry confirmed in a formal press release.
In a first, the awards will be held virtually on August 29, the National Sports Day, instead of the Rashtrapati Bhavan this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The criteria for the awards takes into consideration the athletes' performances over a four-year period. A weightage of 80 per cent is given to athletes winning medals at various international competitions with the remaining 20 per cent left to the discretion of the panel members.
Paddler Manika Batra's recommendation for the Khel Ratna raised doubts as she has not won anything of note since the Arjuna award on the back of her exploits at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. During this period, her world ranking has slipped to 63, but the ministry decided against rejecting her recommendation.
In a statement, Manika called the honour an "added responsibility". "This award is an added responsibility for me to continue performing well and I am looking forward to bring more laurels to the country," Manika said.
"It's an honour for me to be named as one of the recipients of this year's prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award."
The recommendation of Rani Rampal also raised questions even though she helped the Indian hockey team secure a berth at the Tokyo Olympics, besides leading the team into the final of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where it lost to Japan 1-2. The sports fraternity, though, lauded the Arjuna recommendation of Winter Olympic Games legend Shiva Keshavan, who has represented India six times in the luge event at the Games from 1998 to 2018.
Keshavan has won innumerable medals for India at the international level and has several world and Asian records to his name. With the sports ministry pressing for recognition to indigenous sport, the Arjuna Award list also included an athlete from kho-kho (Sudhakar Sarika Kale).