Devendra Jhajharia Tuesday became the first para athlete to receive India’s highest sporting honour – Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – along with hockey star Sardar Singh, who has endured trying times off the field in the last one year.
Javelin thrower Jhajharia is the only Indian to win two Paralympic gold medals — 2004 Athens Games and 2016 Rio Paralympics – while star mid-fielder Sardar has been the architect of India hockey team’s many victories in the last few years.
The 36-year-old Jhajharia had created world records while winning both his gold medals. He had also clinched a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships.
The 31-year-old Sardar has faced allegations of sexual harassment by a Indian-origin British hockey player. He, however, denied the allegations and the government committee, led by justice CK Khattar, chose him for the honour.
Sardar had become India’s youngest captain when he led the side at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the age of 22.
A recipient of the Padma Shri – the fourth highest civilian award – 2015, Sardar has two Asian Games medals – gold in 2014 Incheon and bronze in 2010 Guangzhou.
Cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara, one of the 17 Arjuna Awardees chosen this year, did not attend the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan due to his County commitments in England.
All other Arjuna Awardees received their awards and citation from President Ram Nath Kovind, who recently succeeded Pranab Mukherjee, on the occasion of National Sports Day.
Jhajharia was not the only para athlete whose achievements got official recognition today, as Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati also received the honour.
Mariyappan had won the men’s high jump (F46) gold medal at the Rio Olympics while Bhati had claimed a silver in the same event.
Like in the past, the awards selection yet again got embroiled in controversy with the Sports Ministry striking off the names of para coach Satyanarayana and kabaddi coach Hira Nand Kataria.
While Satayanarayana was not cleared by the ministry after the selection panel’s nomination since he is facing a criminal defamation case in a Delhi court, Kataria’s name was approved but was taken off three days after official notification.
Sports Minister Vijay Goel dropped his name after the kabaddi federation and many players expressed surprise over Kataria’s selection as he is an unknown entity in the circle.
Ignored for the prestigious award, weightlifter Sanjita Chanu and basketball player A Anitha had approached the Delhi High Court over their non-selection and the government promised to have a relook into their cases.
The government will file a response in 14 days time.
Khel Ratna awardees: Devendra Jhajharia (Para-Athlete) and Sardar Singh (Hockey). Arjuna Awardees: V J Surekha (Archery), Khushbir Kaur (Athletics), Arokin Rajiv (Athletics), Prasanthi Singh (Basketball), L Devendro Singh (Boxing), Cheteshwar Pujara (Cricket), Harmanpreet Kaur (Cricket), Oinam Bembem Devi (Football), SSP Chawrasia (Golf), S V Sunil (Hockey), Jasvir Singh (Kabaddi), P N Prakash (Shooting), Anthony Amalraj (Table Tennis), Saketh Myneni (Tennis), Satyawart Kadian (Wrestling), Mariyappan Thangavelu (Para-Athlete) and Varun Bhati (Para-Athlete).