New Delhi, Sept 18:
Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and world champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu were jointly recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, while star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was among 20 sportspersons picked for the Arjuna Awards.
Besides Chopra, other prominent names recommended for the Arjuna Awards were junior world champion sprinter Hima Das and Asian Games gold-medallist middle distance runner Jinson Johnson, cricketer Smriti Mandhana, hockey players Manpreet Singh and Savita Punia, multiple Commonwealth Games gold-medallist table tennis star Manika Batra and Asiad doubles gold-medallist tennis player Rohan Bopanna.
These recommendations by a selection committee headed by Justice (retd.) Indermeet Kaul Kochhar are subject to approval by Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Once ratified by him, President Ram Nath Kovind will present the awards on September 25 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Kohli will become the third Indian cricketer to win the country’s highest sporting honour after the legendary Sachin Tendulkar (1997) and the talismanic former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (2007) once the sports ministry officially accepts the committee’s recommendation.
It is learnt that India’s top male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth was also in Khel Ratna contention for his good show in the Super Series circuit last year but lost out to the 24-year-old Chanu, who is the reigning world champion in the 48kg category.
Asian Games gold-medallist boxer Amit Panghal was discussed for the Arjuna Awards but the committee decided against against recommending him due to a failed dope test back in 2012, a source told PTI.
Similarly, the selection committee also decided against recommending veteran discus thrower Seema Punia for the awards due to his doping past. The 35-year-old Seema, who won a medal each in the Commonwealth and the Asian Games, had failed a dope test during the 2000 World Junior Championships.
Former Asian Games bronze-medallist and Commonwealth Games silver-medallist Satish Kumar was the lone boxer to get the Arjuna honour this year.
Three shooters — Rahi Sarnobat, Ankur Mittal and Shreyasi Singh — also figured in list of 20 recommended sportspersons while there were two from para-sports — Ankur Dhama and Manoj Sarkar.
The 18-year-old Hima, who won a gold and two silver in the Asian Games, and golfer Shubhankar Sharma were not in the original shortlist but were later added for their impressive performances. This year’s award ceremony was postponed to September 25 from the usual August 29 National Sports Day event due to clash of dates with the Asian Games in Indonesia.
The Khel Ratna awardees are entitled to a cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh, while the Arjuna winners are given Rs 5 lakh.
Kohli, the world’s No.1 Test batsman as per the ICC rankings, has been in stupendous form for the past three years and missed out despite nominations in the years 2016 and 2017.
The 29-year-old currently has 6147 runs in 71 Tests with 23 centuries and 9779 runs in 211 ODIs, including 35 tons.
With a combined 58 tons in international cricket, he is second only to Sachin Tendulkar (100) in the list of India’s top century-scorers in international cricket.
The BCCI has been nominating Kohli for the Khel Ratna for the past three years but in 2016, it was given to Sakshi Malik, PV Sindhu and Deepa Karmakar for their good show at Rio Olympics.
Kohli has also been the recipient of ICC’s “ODI Cricketer of the Year’’ in 2012 and 2017 along with the sport’s highest honour — the ICC Cricketer of the Year. Kohli has won the Indian Cricketer of the Year on five occasions.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Recommendations: Virat Kohli (cricket) and Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting).
Arjuna Award Recommendations: Neeraj Chopra (Athletics); Jinson Johnson (Athletics), Hima Das (Athletics); N Sikki Reddy (Badminton); Satish Kumar (Boxing); Smriti Mandhana (Cricket); Shubhankar Sharma (Golf); Manpreet Singh (Hockey); Savita (Hockey); Ravi Rathore (Polo); Rahi Sarnobat (Shooting); Ankur Mittal (Shooting); Shreyashi Singh (Shooting); Manika batra (Table Tennis); G Sathiyan (Table Tennis); Rohan Bopanna (Tennis); Sumit (Wrestling); Pooja Kadian (Wushu); Ankur Dhama (Para athletics); Manoj Sarkar (Para badminton).