Bengaluru, August 29: The country's sporting heroes were bestowed the annual national awards on the National Sports Day in an unparalleled online ceremony amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during which athletes logged in from multiple cities to be honoured by President Ram Nath Kovind.
Missing, however, was the grandeur of the Rashtrapati Bhavan's Durbar Hall. The strict COVID-19 protocol meant that for the first time in 44 years' history of the awards, the winners, guests and dignitaries did not gather at the Durbar Hall to be recognised for their excellence.
This year a whopping 74 winners were picked for the national honours, including an unprecedented five Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratnas and 27 Arjuna awardees.
The award winners were connected virtually to President Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan from nine different Sports Authority of India-designated locations.
The President congratulated all athletes, sports associations and, coaches on winning the awards.
Watch LIVE as President Kovind virtually confers the National Sports and Adventure Awards 2020 https://t.co/o6UZbvsYjl— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 29, 2020
Earlier, minister Kiren Rijiju joined the sports fraternity in condoling the death of veteran athletics coach Purushottam Rai, who was to receive this year's Dronacharya award in the lifetime category.
The 79-year-old had breathed his last in his Bengaluru residence on Friday evening after a massive cardiac arrest.
Cricketers Rohit Sharma (Khel Ratna) and Ishant Sharma (Arjuna) missed out due to their Indian Premier League (IPL) commitments in the UAE.
Star wrestler Vinesh Phogat (Khel Ratna) and badminton player Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Arjuna) had to pull out of the ceremony after testing positive for COVID-19.
The other three Khel Ratna winners -- TT player Manika Batra, Paralympic gold-medallist Mariyappan Thangavelu and women's hockey captain Rani Rampal -- attended the ceremony. While Batra logged in from Pune, Thangavelu and Rampal joined from Bengaluru.
All health and safety protocols, keeping with the guidelines of the Health Ministry, were followed at the venues where dignitaries and awardees were present.
Sports Minister @KirenRijiju met the athletes who received the National Sports Awards in Delhi as part of the first ever virtual National Sports Awards function. @realmanubhaker Sandeep Chaudhary, Ajay Sawant, Deepti Sharma. @adgpi pic.twitter.com/DVSr7bbj7T— Kiren Rijiju Office (@RijijuOffice) August 29, 2020
In fact, awardees were seen clad in PPE kits as they made their way to the ceremony venues. As per the direction of the Sports Ministry, every award winner had to undergo a COVID-19 test before reporting to the ceremony venue.
The awards are given on August 29, which is celebrated as National Sports Day to commemorate the birth anniversary of Dhyan Chand.
Minister Rijiju paid floral tributes to the 'Wizard of Indian Hockey' on his 115th birth anniversary at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi.
(With PTI inputs)