The Tokyo 2020 javelin champion Neeraj Chopra and India’s other medallists from the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics make up nine of the 11 athletes recommended for the prestigious Khel Ratna award for 2021.
Rechristened from Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna to Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award earlier this year, the Khel Ratna is India’s highest sporting honour followed by other national sports awards like the Arjuna Award, the Dronacharya Award and others.
The national sports awards are given out annually by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Nominated sportspersons receive their awards from the President of India at the Presidential Palace, generally on India’s national sports day - August 29.
With India winning a record number of medals at both the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, this year’s recommendation list, drawn up by the national sports awards selection committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Mukundakum Sharma, is set to be the largest in history.
Last year, a total of 74 awards were given out across different segments. Meanwhile, this year’s recommendation list stands at 72 for the Khel Ratna, Arjuna, Major Dhyan Chand and Dronacharya (regular and lifetime) awards. Nominees for the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad trophy and Tenzing Norgay award are yet to be revealed.
There’s a marked increase in both the Khel Ratna and Arjuna award recommendations this year. Compared to five from last year, the number has increased to 11 for the Khel Ratna while the list has gone up from 27 to 35 for the Arjuna Award.
The Khel Ratna recommendation list is dominated by athletes who won medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics earlier this year.
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who won a historic gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, was an obvious inclusion in the list, alongside silver medal-winning wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya and boxer Lovlina Borgohain, who won bronze.
Hockey star PR Sreejesh, who played an integral role in ending Indian hockey’s 49-year-long medal drought at the Olympics, also finds himself on the shortlist.
Wrestling ace Bajrang Punia and badminton icon PV Sindhu, both of whom returned with bronze from Tokyo, were the only individual Indian medallists missing from the Khel Ratna recommendations as they have already won the award and couldn’t be recommended twice.
Pramod Bhagat, Sumit Antil, Avani Lekhara, Krishna Nagar and Manish Narwal – the five gold medallists from India’s record-breaking contingent at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics – accompany Neeraj and Co. on the Khel Ratna list.
Indian football legend Sunil Chhetri and Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj are the other two athletes recommended for the Khel Ratna. Chhetri will be the first Indian footballer to win the prestigious award.
Fencer Bhavani Devi, boxer Simranjit Kaur, wrestler Deepak Punia, all Tokyo Olympians, as well as cricketer Shikhar Dhawan are among the athletes recommended for the Arjuna Award.
Full list of Indian athletes recommended for the Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award, Major Dhyan Chand Award and Dronacharya Award for 2021
Khel Ratna recommendations list - Neeraj Chopra (athletics), Ravi Kumar Dahiya (wrestling), Lovlina Borgohain (boxing), PR Sreejesh (hockey), Pramod Bhagat (para badminton), Sumit Antil (para javelin), Avani Lekhara (para shooting), Krishna Nagar (para badminton), Manish Narwal (para shooting), Sunil Chhetri (football), Mithali Raj (cricket)
Arjuna Award recommendations list - Abhishek Verma (shooting), Deepak Punia (wrestling), Simranjit Kaur (boxing), Bhavani Devi (fencing), Monika (hockey), Vandana Katariya (hockey), Sandeep Narwal (kabaddi), Arpinder Singh (triple jump), Himani Uttam Parab (mallakhamb), Ankita Raina (tennis), Dilpreet Singh (hockey), Harmanpreet Singh (hockey), Rupinder Pal Singh (hockey), Surendra Kumar (hockey), Amit Rohidas (hockey), Birendra Lakra (hockey), Sumit (hockey), Nilakanta Sharma (hockey), Hardik Singh (hockey), Vivek Sagar Prasad (hockey), Gurjant Singh (hockey), Mandeep Singh (hockey), Shamsher Singh (hockey), Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (hockey), Varun Kumar (hockey), Simranjeet Singh (hockey), Nishad Kumar (paraathletics), Praveen Kumar (para athletics), Suhash Yathiraj (para-badminton), Singhraj Adhana (para shooting), Harvinder Singh (para archery), Sharad Kumar (para athletics), Bhavina Patel (para table tennis), Yogesh Kathuniya (para athletics), Shikhar Dhawan (cricket)
Major Dhyan Chand Award recommendations list - KC Lekha (boxing), OP Jaisha (athletics), Divya Singh (basketball), Davinder Singh Garcha (hockey), Vikas Kumar (kabaddi), Nir Bahadur Gurung (para athletics), PS Abdul Rassak (volleyball), Sajjan Singh (wrestling), Abhijeet Kunte (chess)
Dronacharya Award (regular) recommendations list - Pritam Siwach (hockey), Jai Prakash Nautiyal (para shooting), Mahaveer Prasad Saini (para athletics), Sandeep Sangwan (hockey), Sandhya Gurung (boxing), Sujeet Maan (wrestling), Subramanian Raman (table tennis), Radhakrishnan Nair (athletics)
Dronacharya Award (lifetime) recommendations list - Ashan Kumar (kabaddi), Bhaskar Chandra Bhatt (hockey), C R Kumar (hockey), TP Ouseph (athletics), Jagrup Rathi (wrestling), S Muralidharan (badminton), Sarkar Talwar (cricket), Sarpal Singh (hockey), Tapan Kumar Panigrahi (swimming)