Adding another first to his credit, javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia set to be the only paralympic athlete yet to be awarded the country’s highest sporting honour, awards selection committee also names 17 sportspersons for Arjuna Award, including cricketers Cheteshwar Pujara and Harmanpreet Kaur. But Indian women’s cricket captain Mithali Raj misses out
Two-time paralympic gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia and former Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh have been selected to be awarded the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awards this year. The awards selection committee has recommended both Jhajharia and Sardar to be considered for the award jointly.
If the Union sports ministry accepts the recommendations of the awards selection committee, Jhajharia, a javelin thrower, will become the first paralympian to be conferred with the country’s highest sporting honour. The 36-year-old was also the first Indian to have won two Paralympic gold medals in his sporting discipline.
It is learnt that Jhajharia was the first choice of the awards selection committee headed by Justice (Retd) C K Thakkar although it also picked 31-year-old midfielder Sardar Singh as its second nominee for the top honour.
Sardar, who was previously awarded the Arjuna Award in 2012, is now one of the senior players leading the team. He is one of modern hockey’s finest defensive mid-fielders, leading India to two successive silver medal finishes in the Commonwealth Games.
“My hard work of the last 15-20 years has paid off. It is the biggest of all sporting honours and the credit for that goes to my teammates because without them I couldn’t have achieved what I have,” Sardar said soon after the announcement of the committee’s recommendation.
The final call on whether the duo will jointly receive the sporting honour will now be taken by the Union sports ministry.
17 names recommended for Arjuna Awards
The awards selection committee has also recommended 17 names for the Arjuna award. The list includes men’s cricket team Test regular Cheteshwar Pujara, women’s team World Cup sensation Harmanpreet Kaur, paralympic medallists Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati, golfer SSP Chawrasia and hockey player SV Sunil.
However, the list of sporting award nominees is likely to raise some eyebrows as the committee hasn’t recommended Mithali Raj, the Indian women’s cricket team skipper who led her side to the World Cup finals against England recently, for the Khel Ratna.
It is learnt that the BCCI failed to recommend Mithali’s name for the top sporting honour before the April 30 deadline. However, the awards selection committee has in the past broken with convention and recommended names of sportspersons for the honours despite their names not being forwarded by their respective sporting bodies ahead of the deadline – the most recent examples being of medal-winning Olympians PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik.
Mithali became the highest scorer in the history of Women’s ODI cricket during the World Cup 2017 and also the first Indian batter to strike 1000 runs in a World Cup.
The ace cricketer, however, declined to comment on her name not figuring in the list of award nominees, stating simply that “it is a matter on which the BCCI should have taken a call.”