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National Sports Day: More than just a day of celebration in India

Celebrated on the birth anniversary of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, the National Sports Day is also a timely reminder for the need for sporting activities in life.
By Naveen Peter

Question: When is National Sports Day?

Answer: The National Sports Day in India is celebrated on August 29.

Question: When was National Sports Day first celebrated in India?

Answer: National Sports Day was included in the list of celebratory days in India for the first time in 2012.

Question: Why do we celebrate National Sports Day?

Answer: The National Sports Day is celebrated to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Dhyan Chand Singh.

States like Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka, among others, organise various sporting events and seminars aimed at spreading awareness about the importance of physical activities and sports in life.

Over the years, the government has also used this day as a platform to launch various sports schemes, including the Khelo India movement, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018.

National Sports Day is celebrated in India on August 29. Photo: KIYG

But there’s more. The National Sports Day is also an occasion that sees the nation honour its sporting heroes with recognitions like the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna (formerly called the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna), Arjuna Award, Dhyan Chand Award and the Dronacharya Award.

At a special ceremony held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President of India takes this day to confer these awards.

Who is Dhyan Chand?

In a country that has reveres sporting superstars like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Balbir Singh Sr. among others, hockey player Major Dhyan Chand has reserved a special place for himself.

Born in Allahabad (Prayagraj) in Uttar Pradesh on August 29, 1905, as Dhyan Singh, he rose to prominence in the pre-independence period.

Star of the Indian hockey team that dominated the sport in the years before World War II, Dhyan Singh played an important role in helping India complete their first hat-trick of Olympic gold medals with wins at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics.

Starting his hockey career with the regimental team of the British Indian Army, a young Dhyan Singh was a special talent. But what made him stand out was his dedication to his craft.

With most of the day spent in regimental duties, Dhyan Singh would practice his hockey in the night under the moonlight, a reason that earned him the name Dhyan Chand (Chand means moon in Hindi).

Dhyan Chand (standing second from left) with the Indian hockey team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Photo: Olympic Archives.

He would rise through the ranks in the coming years, helping his teams with the various inter-Army matches, and soon be called up for the Indian hockey team for the 1928 Olympics.

There would be no looking back from there as Dhyan Chand went on to rule the world of hockey with his delightful stick work and understanding of the game that earned him the moniker of 'Hockey Wizard' and 'The Magician'.

The hockey legend’s career spanned from 1926 to 1948 and ended as one of the greatest hockey players of all time after having represented India 185 matches and scored over 400 goals during this period.

While he retired as a Major in the Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army in 1956, the Indian government went on to confer the Padma Bhushan - third-highest civilian award - the same year. The National Sports Day is celebrated on Dhyan Chand's birthday on August 29 to honour the hockey legend.

National Sports Awards

Awarded by the central government, the National Sports Awards is a recognition of an athlete’s contribution to their discipline and the awards are conferred on National Sports Day.

The highest sporting honour, the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna (renamed from Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna), is reserved for the outstanding performer, usually handed out to the Olympic medallist in an Olympic year, and the Arjuna Award recognises the achievements of the athletes in the seasons gone by.

A five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand was the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

The Dronacharya Award, meanwhile, is conferred on the best coaches in the country, including foreign coaches who have contributed to the development of the sport in India. And the Dhyan Chand Award recognises the lifetime contribution of an athlete in his field.

While the Individual National Sports Federations (NSF) and the athletes are free to file nominations for the awards, an award committee constituted by the sports ministry takes it upon itself to recommend potential awardees to the government.

Constituted in 1991, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna was first awarded to India’s first-ever Grand Master and a five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand.

The Arjuna Award is the oldest among all with the first award being handed out in 1961, while the Dronacharya Award came into being in 1985.

The Dhyan Chand award is the latest with the first recipients, Shahuraj Birajdar (boxing), Ashok Diwan (hockey) and Aparna Ghosh (basketball), receiving their awards in 2002.