New Delhi: Devendra Jhajharia on Thursday became the first paralympian to be recommended for India’s highest sporting honour — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna — along with celebrated former hockey captain Sardar Singh.
Javelin thrower Jhajharia, the first Indian to win two Paralympic gold medals, was the first choice of the awards selection committee headed by Justice (Retd) C.K. Thakkar.
The committee has picked 31-year-old midfielder Sardar as its second nominee for the top honour and has suggested that both Jhajharia and Sardar be considered for the award jointly.
The 36-year-old Jhajharia’s two gold medals came in the 2004 Athens Games and last year’s Rio Paralympics and he set new world records on both the occasions. He also won a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships.
Sardar, on the other hand, has been a constant in India’s fast-improving standing in international hockey. The 31-year-old, regarded as one of the ace midfielders in the world, became the youngest player to captain the Indian hockey team when he led the side at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
A recipient of the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India in 2015, Sardar has two Asian Games medals — gold in 2014 Incheon and bronze in 2010 Guangzhou. He also has two Commonwealth Games silver medals and was named in the International Hockey Federation’s All-Star team twice in 2010, 2011.
“My hard work for 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.
Sardar’s name became a topic of debate during the meeting today due to the sexual harassment allegation levelled against him by a Indian-origin British hockey player. However, his sporting achievements were hard to ignore for the committee.
Whether both Sardar and Jhajharia get the award or either of the two is picked, would be decided by the sports ministry in the next few days.
Besides, the awards selection committee has recommended 17 names for the Arjuna award.
The list includes men’s Test cricket team regular Cheteshwar Pujara and women’s team World Cup star Harmanpreet Kaur, Paralympic medallists Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati, golfer SSP Chawrasia and hockey player S V Sunil.
The 29-year-old Pujara scored the maximum runs for India in a single season last year. He tallied more than 1350 runs, surpassing even skipper Virat Kohli.
Mariyappan had won the men’s high jump (F46) gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Bhati, on the other hand, had claimed a silver in the same event.
Golfer Chawrasia had won back-to-back Indian Open titles in 2016 and this year.
Khel Ratna recommendations: Devendra Jhajharia (Para- Athlete) and Sardar Singh (Hockey). Arjuna Awards recommendations: V J Surekha (Archery), Khushbir Kaur (Athletics), Arokin Rajiv (Athletics), Prasanthi Singh (Basketball), L Devendro Singh (Boxing), Cheteshwar Pujara (Cricket), Harmanpreet Kaur (Cricket), Oinam Bembem Devi (Football), SSP Chawrasia (Golf), S V Sunil (Hockey), Jasvir Singh (Kabaddi), P N Prakash (Shooting), A Amalraj (Table Tennis), Saketh Myneni (Tennis), Satyawart Kadian (Wrestling), Mariyappan Thangavelu (Para-Athlete) and Varun Bhati (Para-Athlete).