Here's why it's time to put an end to Poonia's Khel Ratna campaign
Turning the Khel Ratna into a political contest, as Krishan Poonia has done, disrespects not only the process but the award itself.
It is time for the unseemly carping over the Khel Ratna award to come to an end. With the exception of Ronjan Sodhi, who has maintained a dignified silence throughout, the controversy has reflected poorly on everyone involved and served as a another reminder of the dysfunctional nature of Indian sport.
Krishna Poonia must take the lion’s share of the blame. She seems to think the award was taken away from her because reportedly an initial vote went in her favour before Ronjan Sodhi’s name was introduced into the discussion and he was eventually nominated. But it was the selection committee’s prerogative to decide the nomination, not Poonia’s.
Anjali Bhagwat, who is one of India’s most renowed shooters (she won the Khel Ratna in 2003), apparently reached the meeting late and subsequently proposed Sodhi’s name. The rest of the committee had every right to consider Sodhi’s credentials as the nomination had not yet been sent to the Sports Ministry.
Yet Poonia believes she was cheated and has been lobbying the Sports Minister to add her name to the awards list, her denials of lobbying not withstanding, and taking her case to the press, turning what should have been an honourable occasion into one of shameless self promotion. She has also questioned the integrity of the committee, which has taken the shine off the award for Sodhi, who has done absolutely nothing wrong.
"How can she say anything at all? Bhagwat asked. “She was the one who called me a day before the meeting and lobbied for the award. She has been blaming me for her not getting the award. I only made everybody realise that Ronjan deserved more than the others. And everybody agreed.”
But the committee hasn’t come out exactly like smelling like roses either. Someone leaked the details of the voting process to start with, which is what started the ball rolling with Poonia. So at least one committee member was unhappy with the way the voting took place. But anonymously leaking the information was the wrong way to handle the situation and has only served to create a national embarrassment.
There are also conflicting accounts of what happened in the meeting. India Today quoted an unnamed committee saying the vote was split evenly between Sodhi and Poonia and that a suggestion they both be nominated went unheeded. But Bhagwat has said the Sodhi was selected unanimously. That has only added to the drama and presents a picture of a committee at war with itself.
The Sports Minister, Jitendra Singh, could have squashed the controversy by taking a quick decision not to accommodate Poonia but politics always rears its ugly head in Indian sports. Poonia has the support of Deepinder Singh Hooda, a Congress MP from Rohtak, while wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, and Virender Sehwag have also backed her.
This has reportedly weighed on the Sports Minister’s mind and delayed the announcement of the winners. But the award is not a popularity contest. There is a committee that is charged with nominating the winner and the committee has chosen a winner – Sodhi.
That the minister has allowed outside voices to sway the process has set a bad precedent for the future. If such pressure is to succeed, it would corrupt the entire selection process. As Bhagwat, said, “It will not be a sporting award, it will be a political award.”
The latest news, reported by the Indian Express, is that the minister will forward all the objections to Michael Ferreira, the head of the selection committee and a billiards legend.
Ferreira has already said he stands by the committee’s decision without revealing details of what happened at the meeting. At this point, it would be best if he continues to do so and does not give in to Poonia’s power play. This is one instance where politics and sports should definitely not mix.
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