It was a momentous occasion for the country’s top sports stars on the occasion of National Sports Day. Due to the COVID pandemic, the event was a ‘virtual’ one.
It was a day of celebrations for India’s best sportspersons as they were bestowed the country’s highest sporting honours on the occasion of National Sports Day on Saturday.
In a unique and first-ever virtual ceremony that fans were able to stream live, 60 athletes and coaches joined from 11 Sports Authority of India (SAI) and National Informatics Centre (NIC) bases across the country to receive their awards from the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, badminton star Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and two other unnamed athletes were unable to attend the event after testing COVID-positive while cricketers Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma also missed it since they are in the UAE to play the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The absence of renowned athletics coach Purushottam Rai was also felt after he died due to a cardiac arrest on Friday evening. He had been given the Dronacharya (Lifetime) Award.
Strict protocols were in place with the athletes even travelling to their respective SAI and NIC venues in full PPE kits to ensure their safety against the novel coronavirus.
President Ram Nath Kovind, who conferred the honours from the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, thanked the 74 awardees for their good work in taking Indian sports forward.
He also reserved special praise for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winners, the nation’s highest sporting honour, and felt proud that three of them – Manika Batra, Rani Rampal and Vinesh Phogat – were women.
“I am privileged and honoured to get this award with two fine women athletes,” Rani Rampal told Firstpost. “Even at the Rio Olympics, all the medals were won by women athletes, so it is nice to see the acknowledgement coming.”
More good news awaited the stars as Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Kiren Rijiju announced that awardees from five of the seven categories will receive enhanced cash incentives.
The incentive for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award has been increased to ₹25 lakh from ₹7.5 lakh while Arjuna Awardees will get ₹15 lakh each from ₹5 lakh.
The Dronacharya (Lifetime) awardees, earlier given ₹5 lakh, will now be given ₹15 lakh as cash prize, while the Dronacharya (Regular) awardees will be given ₹10 lakh instead of ₹5 lakh per awardee.
Dhyan Chand awardees will be given ₹10 lakh instead of ₹5 lakh.
“The prize money for the sports awards was last reviewed in 2008. When our players perform better, they have to be recognised and rewarded,” said Rijiju.
“I would like to congratulate all the award winners for the accolades and honours they have brought to India.”
Rijiju, who attended the virtual National Sports Awards ceremony from the Vigyan Bhavan, also paid a floral tribute to Dhyan Chand, whose 115th birth anniversary was celebrated at Delhi’s National Stadium which is named after the hockey legend.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna: Rohit Sharma (Cricket), Shri Mariyappan T (Para Athletics), Manika Batra (Table Tennis), Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling), Rani Rampal (Hockey)
Dronacharya award: Jude Felix (Hockey), Yogesh Malviya (Mallakhamb), Jaspal Rana (Shooting), KK Handoo (Wushu), Gaurav Khanna (Para Badminton)
Dronacharya award (Life-time): Dharmendra Tiwary (Archery), Purushotham Rai (Athletics), Shiv Singh (Boxing), Romesh Pathania (Hockey), KK Hooda (Kabaddi), VB Munishwar (Para Powerlifting), Naresh Kumar (Tennis), OP Dahiya (Wrestling).
Arjuna award: Atanu Das (Archery), Dutee Chand (Athletics), Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Badminton), Chirag Shetty (Badminton), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Basketball), Manish Kaushik (Boxing), Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing), Ishant Sharma (Cricket), Deepti Sharma (Cricket), Ajay Sawant (Equestrian), Sandesh Jhingan (Football), Aditi Ashok (Golf), Akashdeep Singh (Hockey), Deepika Thakur (Hockey), Deepak Hooda (Kabaddi), Sudhakar Kale (Kho-Kho), Dattu Bhokanal (Rowing), Manu Bhaker (Shooting), Saurabh Chaudhary (Shooting), Madhurika Patkar (Table Tennis), Divij Sharan (Tennis), Shiva Keshavan (Winter Sports), Divya Kakran (Wrestling), Rahul Aware (Wrestling), Suyash Jadhav (Para Swimming), Sandeep Chaudhary (Para Athletics), Manish Narwal (Para Shooting).
Dhyan Chand award: Kuldip Singh Bhullar (Athletics), Jincy Philips (Athletics), Pradeep Gandhe (Badminton), Trupti Murgunde (Badminton), N Usha (Boxing), Lakha Singh (Boxing), Sukhvinder Singh Sandhu (Football), Ajit Singh (Hockey), Manpreet Singh (Kabaddi), J Ranjith Kumar (Para Athletics), Satyaprakash Tiwari (Para Badminton), Manjeet Singh (Rowing), Sachin Nag (Swimming), Nandan Bal (Tennis), Netarpal Hooda (Wrestling).
Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Sarfraz Singh, Taka Tamut, Late Magan Bissa (represented by wife Sushma Bissa), Anita Devi, Keval Hiren Kakka, Satendra Singh