New Delhi: Mired in selection controversies and devoid of a Khel Ratna for the first time in 20 years, the National Sports Awards were on Friday presented by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhawan here in a ceremony which was severely short on star power.
Like the past editions, selection controversies cast a shadow on the ceremony and matters came to a head when boxer Manoj Kumar dragged the Sports Ministry to court after being overlooked for the Arjuna award despite qualifying in the new points system.
Add to this, the awards selection committee did not find any athlete worthy of the country's highest sporting honour -- the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna -- this year.
None of the seven candidates, whose names were forwarded to the committee, got the 12-member panel's nod, making it the first time since 1994 when no sportsperson was named for the top award.
Controversies aside, the ceremony followed the long-standing traditions as awardees walked upto to receive their respective honours from the President amid resounding applause from the dignitaries present, including Vice President M Hamid Ansari and Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
A notable absentee from the ceremony today was cricketer R Ashwin. The off-spinner could not make it as he is currently on national duty in England in an ongoing ODI series. The others who were bestowed the honour were Akhilesh Varma (archery), Tintu Luka (athletics), H N Girisha (paralympics), V Diju (badminton), Geetu Ann Jose (basketball), Jai Bhagwan (boxing), Anirban Lahiri (golf), Mamta Pujari (kabaddi), Saji Thomas (rowing), Heena Sidhu (shooting), Anaka Alankamony (squash), Tom Joseph (volleyball), Renubala Chanu (weightlifting) and Sunil Rana (wrestling).
Arjuna, Dronacharya and Dhyan Chand awardees received statuettes, citations and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each. Recipients of Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar were given trophies.