New Delhi: Former greats on Sunday revived the longstanding demand for Bharat Ratna to late hockey legend Dhyan Chand with some saying the "wizard" should have been given the honour ahead of cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar.
Former captains Ajit Pal Singh, Zafar Iqbal, Dilip Tirkey and Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar gathered in New Delhi at Jantar Mantar another other former players in the hope that the government will fulfil their demand and confer Bharat Ratna to the legend who guided India to Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
"We have all gathered in New Delhi in the hope that dada Dhyan Chand gets the honour which is long overdue. But we can only hope that he gets it. It is the political will that matters. The same was the case when Sachin Tendulkar was conferred with the honour (in 2014). It makes no difference to his stature, whether dada (Dhyan Chand) gets the award or not. But he should get it as he is most deserving for the recognition," Iqbal told PTI.
The clamour for the award to Dhyan Chand has resurfaced after he missed out on the honour in 2013 when Tendulkar was chosen for the country's highest civillian honour ahead of the hockey legend. Even the sports and home ministry recommending Dhyan Chand for Bharat Ratna did not prove to be enough when UPA was in power.
Ajit Pal, who captained India to victory in 1975 World Cup, said Dhyan Chand should have been the first sportsperson to get the honour.
"People world over know him. He is known as a wizard of hockey and we have heard so many stories about him. If any sportsperson deserves the honour, it is him. He should have been the first one to get it. He played and won gold medals when India used to travel on bullock carts, there was extreme poverty. His sacrifice for the game is huge. The earlier governments erred in not giving him the award. I hope this government rectifies this mistake," said Ajit Pal.
On Tendulkar getting the recognition ahead of him, Ajit Pal added: "I don't want to compare any sportsperson with him. Dhyan Chand played when we were still under British rule. The rewards that you see nowadays for winning medals were not there at that time.
"It was an era where one played for the applause and not for monetary benefits because there were none. I hope he is not disrespected anymore and gets what is long overdue."
Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar said it is sad that hockey fraternity has been forced to repeatedly remind the government.
"He has been a father figure for us in hockey. Countless have picked up the game after being inspired by him and gone on to bring laurels for India. They looked up to the era of 1928, 1932 and 1936 and it is still binding the game. It is not a good feeling that we have all gathered here to demand Bharat Ratna for him. The government should have decided on it long ago," he said.
"I don't want to go into who got it before Dhyan Chand Ji. All we care about is that he should be bestowed with the honour. It is long overdue. Hopefully this central government will pay heed to our demand. If they don't want to give, they should make it clear once and for all. We don't want to be kept in the dark anymore," Ashok Kumar added.
Former captain Tirkey said Dhyan Chand not getting his due is a classic case of discriminatory attitude towards sports.
"It is sad that we discriminate between sports. It is even more sad that we are demanding an award for him. He played when there was no recognition, no media. All I want to say is that we request the government to do the needful as soon as possible," Tirkey said.
Other former players in attendance were Ashish Ballal, AB Subbaiah and Mohammed Riaz.