Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra was named on Wednesday as one of 11 athletes to have been nominated for the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna — the country’s highest sporting honour while another 35 have been nominated for the Arjuna Award.
Olympic silver winning wrestler Ravi Dahiya, bronze-winning pugilist Lovlina Borgohain, footballer Sunil Chhetri, cricketer Mithali Raj, hockey player PR Sreejesh were also picked for the award. Paralympic shooter Avani Lekhara and Manish Narwal, badminton players Pramod Bhagat and Krishna Nagar and javelin thrower Sumit Antil (Javelin) were included among the five para-athletes who were nominated for the Khel Ratna award.
Both numbers are unprecedented — the most Khel Ratnas to be awarded previously was 5 in 2020 while a then record 27 Arjuna awards were bestowed the same year. According to the government’s own stipulations, both the Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Awards are meant to have a cap on winners. Only one award each year is meant to be awarded for the Khel Ratna while the number of Arjuna Awards awarded each year are supposed to be limited at 15. However, the awards may be increased during Olympic years. Indeed, whenever an Indian athlete has won an Olympic medal or a Paralympic gold, they have been awarded the Khel Ratna. A precedent which seems to have been followed this year as well.
The glut of awards can be understood in light of India’s performance in both the Olympics and Paralympics this year. India won a record 7 medals at the Tokyo Olympics and 19 medals including five gold at the Paralympics. All the individual Olympic medallists who hadn’t previously been awarded the Khel Ratna were nominated for the award this year as were each of the five gold medalists at the Paralympics. PR Sreejesh, the standout goalkeeper for the Indian hockey team that won their first Olympic medal in 41 years, was nominated for the Khel Ratna while the rest of his teammates (who hadn’t won it already) were nominated for the Arjuna Awards.
Wrestler Ravi Dahiya, who won a silver medal in the men’s 57kg freestyle division, was also nominated for a Khel Ratna. However, it’s understood that he had only applied for the lesser Arjuna Award with the intention of applying for the Khel Ratna the subsequent year. He joins a select group of athletes – including Mirabai Chanu and Dipa Karmakar — who have been awarded the Khel Ratna without previously winning the Arjuna Award.