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Khel Ratna draws a blank

New Delhi: The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award is unlikely to be given to any sportsperson this year, as the committee headed by Kapil Dev decided not to recommend anyone for the country’s highest sporting award.

The committee, however, has recommended the names of 15 sportspersons for the Arjuna Awards. It includes cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin, golfer Anirban Lahiri and shooter Heena Sidhu.

According to sources, the committee, which met in the capital on Tuesday, did not find any of the shortlisted seven names suitable for the Khel Ratna.

“There were some discussions on golfer Jeev Milkha Singh and badminton star PV Sindhu,” said a source. “After going through their recent performances, however, it was decided not to recommend anyone’s name this year.”

This is the second time, since the inception of the annual award in 1991-92, that there has been no nomination. On four occasions, the award had been given to two sportsperson in one year. In 2008-09, boxers MC Mary Kom and Vijender Singh and grappler Sushil Kumar had shared the prestigious prize.

Others who were in contention for Khel Ratna were Krishna Poonia and Vikas Gowda (athletics), and Somdev Dev Varman (tennis). Two para-athletes Devendra Jhajaria and HN Girisha were also on the list.

The committee, sources said, after scrutinising the applications closely had found that some of the contenders were accorded the Arjuna Award for similar achievements.

It was evident from the decision of the selection committee that the sports ministry was cautious to avoid the kind of controversy that was created last year, after trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi was nominated for the Khel Ratna.

Alleging the decision was a case of conspiracy to deny her the award, discus thrower Krishna Poonia nearly camped herself in front of the sports ministry and tried her best to overturn the decision. The matter was finally left to the sports minister, who decided to go with the committee’s decision.

It was a surprise that no hockey player’s name was recommended for the Arjuna Award, despite the fact that Hockey India (HI) had forwarded four names.

No footballer also figured in the list for the third year in a row, though the name of goalkeeper Subrata Paul did come up for discussion. The last time a footballer was named for the Arjuna Award was in 2011, when Sunil Chetri was the recipient.

Some of the committee members wanted sportspersons from billiards, snooker and carrom to be included in the list, but their proposals were turned down because of lack of support from other members. As for kabaddi player Mamta Pujari, the suggestion came from Kapil Dev.

The recommendations for 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).