Sports Ministry removes one from Drona nominees, keeps Arjuna list intact


File pictures of former hockey captain Sardar Singh (L) and two-time Paralympic gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia who were recommended for the country’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The mails were sent out to the award winners on Friday night after Sports Minister Vijay Goel cleared the file.

The Sports Ministry has dropped para-sports coach Satyanarayana from the list of this year’s Dronacharya awardees due to a criminal defamation case pending against him, but made no changes to the names recommended for the Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards.

The decision means that tennis player Rohan Bopanna and weightlifter Sanjita Chanu will miss out on the Arjuna awards despite the late push given to their names.

“Yes, we have removed the name of Satyanarayana since he has a case pending against him,” a Sports Ministry official told PTI, referring to a defamation case against the coach.

“He has to clear his name first and only then he can be considered,” said a Ministry official.

Satyanarayana has coached paralympic high-jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won a gold in the Rio Paralympics.

Mariyappan is one among the 17 recommended for the Arjuna award this year.

Satyanarayana, on his part has had written to the ministry on August 13, saying that a few “jealous” people had launched a campaign against him and he should be given a chance to clear his name.

Mariyappan had also written to the ministry, recommending Satyanarayana for the award. But Clean Sports India’s Ashwini Nachappa wrote on August 6, objecting to his name.

“We have kept all other names,” added the official.

The mails were sent out to the award winners on Friday night after Sports Minister Vijay Goel cleared the file.

The selection panel, appointed by the ministry had recommended 17 names, including two para-athletes, for the Arjuna awards. It had nominated hockey player Sardar Singh and Rio Paralympics gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia for Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour in the country.

The ministry chose to stick to the recommendations made by the panel, headed by Justice (retd) C K Thakkar. Goel had the discretion to add names to the list but he chose to approve the recommendations of the panel.

There was a request from his BJP colleague and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to add the name of Deepa Malik for Khel Ratna.

There was a debate if Rohan Bopanna, whose nomination by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) reached the ministry late, should be added to the list considering that his achievements were comparatively bigger than Saketh Myneni who was recommended for this year’s Arjuna Award.

The tennis fraternity is glad that Myneni, who won a gold and silver at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, has got the honour but strongly felt that Bopanna should have been there ahead of any other tennis player.

Bopanna had become the country’s only fourth tennis player to win a Grand Slam when he clinched the French Open mixed doubles title with Canadian partner Gabriela Dabrowski.

He had finished fourth at the 2016 Olympics and there were some in the ministry who felt that if Dipa Karmakar could be given Khel Ratna for a fourth place finish in the Rio Games, Bopanna could also have been considered for the honour.

A few others, though, felt that a mixed doubles title could not be compared with Karmakar’s solo show in gymnastics.

Also cited was the impact that the 24-year-old Karmakar’s performance had on the profile of the sport.

Not playing the Incheon Asian Games also seems to have cost Bopanna dear since his decision to play in an ATP World Tour event was not taken well in the ministry.

AITA did not send his nomination, assuming that he does not fit the criteria since he has not won medals at any multi-sporting event while representing the country, robbing him of a chance to get the award.

Bopanna, however, had the option of sending his application to the ministry.

It’s only after he won the French Open that he sent his application and even had a meeting with the Sports Minister.

Goel had never promised Bopanna the award but it was widely perceived that his meeting with the minister could have tilted the scales in his favour.

A Grand Slam title is considered equal to a gold in World Championships and it should make him eligible next year.

The Indian Weightlifting Federation had also requested for the addition of Chanu’s name in the Arjuna list, saying that she meets the criteria and has 45 points, courtesy gold medals at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Championships, besides a bronze at the Asian Championships.

However, a member of the selection committee told PTI, “Points was not the sole criteria. If points were the only criteria, then neither S S P Chawrasia nor Cheteshwar Pujara nor Harmanpreet Kaur would have got it.

“The achievements were looked at in a holistic perspective. Sanjita has not done anything after the CWG. She did not make even the World Championships.