The 11-member panel selection panel for this year’s Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award chose Virat Kohli despite having zero points to his name in the selection process; while wrestler Bajrang Punia lost out in spite of having 80 points to his name.
Even Mirabai Chanu earned 44 points according to the documents, which are with the Times of India. There were at least six other Khel Ratna aspirants who totaled more points than Chanu. Kohli meanwhile had zero points as cricket has no set criteria.
Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat had 80 points each as per their achievements, but it was a show of hands that ultimately decided that the Indian Test captain Kohli and Mirabai Chanu would receive the highest sports award this year.
After a meeting with the sports minister on Thursday, Punia told TOI he would move court on Friday against his name being overlooked for the award despite having the highest performance points.
The total points awarded based on achievements for 17 sportspersons shortlisted for the 2018 award, had para-athlete Deepa Malik behind Punia and Phogat with 78.4 points, followed by table tennis player Manika Batra (65), boxer Vikas Krishan (52) and archer Abhishek Verma (55.3).
Since cricket is not an Olympic sport, there is no point system and awardees are selected on the basis of consensus. Virat Kohli’s name was rejected in 2016 and 2017.
“When Kohli’s name came up for discussion, it was decided to pick him through a show of hands in the absence of a points system for cricket,” a member said. “Eight out of the 11 members supported Kohli’s candidature and that’s how his name was recommended,” he added.
“In the case of Mirabai and Srikanth, the same process was followed. Seven members raised their hands for Mirabai and six in favor of Srikanth. So, Mirabai became the second recommendation. There was a further debate on Srikanth’s inclusion and an internal voting also took place. But, opinion remained divided on his name, and only Kohli and Mirabai’s names were recommended. Bajrang and Vinesh’s names too came up for discussion, but they weren’t considered for the award,” the member added.
“I want to ask them (committee members) a simple question: ‘What’s the use of having a points system in place when you don’t adhere to it?’” Punia asked.
“If the members want to ignore my credentials despite it being amply visible that Vinesh and I have accumulated the maximum points, then what option do I have other than moving court?” Bajrang said. “I have immense respect for Kohli and Mirabai. They are two champion sportspersons, but if I look at my credentials and that of Mirabai, there is no comparison. You gave her the award, give it to me as well, it’s simple,” he added.
“I only got assurances from the minister (sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore) but I won’t wait until next year,” he told TOI.
This year’s Khel Ratna and Arjuna committee was headed by a retired Delhi high court judge, Justice Indermeet Kaul Kochhar, and had former sportspersons Ashwini Nachappa, Kamlesh Mehta, Samresh Jung, and Vimal Kumar as members, among others.
(With TOI inputs)