New Delhi, August 21: In what could be termed as an unprecedented move the Sports Ministry has decided to confer India's highest sporting honour, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award to five athletes for this year. The criteria for the awards took into consideration the athletes' performances over a four-year period.
A weightage of 80 per cent is given to athletes winning medals at various international competitions with the remaining 20 per cent left to the discretion of the panel members.
India's opener and limited-overs vice-captain Rohit Sharma, star female wrestler Vinesh Phogat, para-athlete Mariyappan Thangavelu, women's hockey captain Rani Rampal and female table tennis sensation Manika Batra will be conferred the prestigious award this year.
Cricketer Rohit Sharma, para-athlete Mariappan Thangavelu, table tennis champion Manika Batra, wrestler Vinesh Phogat & hockey player Rani to get Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. pic.twitter.com/WwUOrGXqfT— ANI (@ANI) August 21, 2020
Vinesh is an Asian Games gold medal winner wrestler, while Thangavelu is a Paralympic gold medalist in Rio. Rani Rampal has been one of the best female hockey players in the world and leading the India national women's hockey team from the front.
While paddler Manika Batra has been making the upward curve in the sport as has become an inspiration for several young girls who aspire to be a table tennis player. She had a remarkable 2018 wherein she won the Commonwealth Games gold medal and Asian Games bronze in women's singles.
Rohit (33) is set to become only the fourth cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli to be conferred with Khel Ratna Award. Virat Kohli was the last cricketer to have won the award along with weightlifter Mirabai Chanu back in 2018.
The Mumbaikar had a phenomenal 2019 and has been rewarded for his performances across the formats. He created history by slamming 5 centuries during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and even shined as an opener in Test cricket in the series against South Africa where he slammed a couple of centuries and a double century.
The awards will be conferred on August 29, which is the birth anniversary of Hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand. That day is also celebrated as National Sports Day. In a first, the awards will be held virtually instead of the Rashtrapati Bhavan this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paddler Manika Batra's recommendation for the Khel Ratna raised doubts as she has not won anything of note since the Arjuna award on the back of her exploits at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
During this period, her world ranking has slipped to 63, but the ministry decided against rejecting her recommendation.
The recommendation of Rani Rampal also raised questions even though she helped the Indian hockey team secure a berth at the Tokyo Olympics, besides leading the team into the final of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where it lost to Japan 1-2.