Intense lobbying by Poonia delays national sports awards

New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Intense lobbying for getting female discus thrower Krishna Poonia the Khel Ratna, the highest sports award, delayed the scheduled announcement of the national sports awards here Tuesday.

The ministry was supposed to make the list final Tuesday, but Poonia, who is upset at not getting the Khel Ratna, spent the whole day lobbying for the award at the ministry.

Sports Secretary Pradip Deb told IANS that the list is unlikely to be changed and said that the ministry's order was expected anytime Tuesday. But till late night, the ministry failed to come out with the final list.

Double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi has been recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, India's highest sporting honour, by the award's committee Aug 13. Cricketer Virat Kohli is one of the 14 chosen for the Arjuna Award to be presented at a ceremony here Aug 29.

The award's selection committee is headed by three-time billiards world champion Michael Ferreira and comprises former India hockey captain Zafar Iqbal, archer Limba Ram, cricketer Ravi Shastri and table tennis player Indu Puri amongst others.

Poonia, a 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, was upset that the committee ignored her for the Khel Ratna despite having support from some members.

She appealed to the Sports Minister Jitendra Singh to exercise his prerogative and give her the award along with with Sodhi.

Besides Poonia, 2012 London Paralympics silver medallist H.N. Girisha has also made his case for the Khel Ratna. He also said that he should be considered for the Arjuna Award, if not recommended for the Khel Ratna.

The sports minister was also suppose to take a call on national volleyball player Tom Joseph whose name reportedly approved initially by the committee for the Arjuna Award but was dropped later in the absence of Sports Authority of India (SAI) director general Jiji Thomson, who is the convenor of the committee.

An angry Thomson had also shot off a letter to Singh complaining him about the incident.

Reports said that the committee had earlier shortlisted Poonia and Girisha for the Khel Ratna. But Girisha's name was removed at the insistence of a member and Sodhi's name was included. Poonia later lost the race for Khel Ratna to Sodhi.

A hurt Sodhi, who has won two silver medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games, said that he has never lobbied for the Khel Ratna.

"I deserved it in 2010 and I delivered. But when I didn't get it, I didn't go out in the media about it. I, in fact, congratulated those who won in 2010 and 2011. I wouldn't have gone all out like this and asked for an award," Sodhi said.

"The amount of medals that I won in the last four-five years, nobody in India has done that. I was World No. 1 last year. Through 2010, I was one of the top five shooters in the world. I think people have a very short memory and they forget the contribution of a sportsperson. So I felt a little bad about the controversy," he said.

Full award list:

Rajeev Gandhi Khel Ratna: Ronjan Sodhi

Arjuna Awards:

Chekrovolu Swuro (Archery)

Renjith Maheshwary (Athletics)

P.V. Sindhu (Badminton)

Kavita Chahal (Boxing)

Rupesh Shah (Snooker and Billiards)

Virat Kohli (Cricket)

Abhijeet Gupta (Chess)

Gaganjeet Bhullar (Golf)

Saba Anjum (Hockey)

Rajkumari Rathore (Shooting)

Joshna Chinappa (Squash)

Neha Rathi (Wrestling)

Dharmender Dalal (Wrestling)

Amit Kumar Saroha (Athletics)

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