Tennis star Sania Mirza received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country’s highest sporting honour on Saturday, while 12 others, including ace shooter Jitu Rai and hockey goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh were conferred with the Arjuna award.
This year’s ceremony had its fair share of controversy as well since a division bench of the Delhi High Court on Saturday stayed a single-judge order directing the Centre to give the prestigious Dronacharya award to former chief national wrestling coach Vinod Kumar.
The Dronacharya award — conferred on eminent coaches — went to Anoop Kumar Dahiya (wrestling), Harbans Singh (athletics), Swatantar Raj Singh (boxing), Nihar Ameen (swimming) and Naval Singh (para-athletics).
In a glittering function at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, President Pranab Mukherjee also handed out Arjuna awards to wrestlers Bajrang Singh, men’s singles shuttler Kidambi Srikanth, archer Sandeep Kumar, 2014 Commonwealth Games medal winning gymnast Dipa Karmakar, kabaddi players Manjeet Chillar and Abhilasha Shashikant Mhatre, roller skater Anup Kumar Yama, weightlifter Sivalingam Sathish Kumar, wushu athlete Y. Sanathoi Devi and para-swimmer Sharath M. Gaekwad.
Boxer Mandeep Jangra, women’s 400 metre runner M.R. Poovamma, female wrestler Babita Kumari, cricketer Rohit Sharma and rower Swarn Singh Virk were also named for the Arjuna award, but could not attend the function.
Jangra, Poovamma, Babita and Sharma are currently participating in international competitions abroad while Virk, who won gold at the Asian Rowing Championship in 2013, is in hospital with an injury.
They will receive their awards at a later date from sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Former India volleyball captain T.P.P. Nair, Davis Cup captain S.P. Misra and former hockey goalkeeper Romeo James bagged the Dhyan Chand award.
Meanwhile, the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award went to Arunima Sinha and Jot Singh (both land adventure), Wing Commander Paramvir Singh (water adventure), Lt. Colonel (retd.) Satyendra Verma (air adventure) and Colonel (Retd.) Satish Chander Sharma (lifetime achievement).
Punjabi University, Patiala, was conferred the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy.
The Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskarar, intended to promote involvement of corporates and institutional boards in sports, went to Directorate General of Military Training, Haryana Police, Sports Coaching Foundation (Hyderabad) and Coal India Limited.
Sania, who became the first Indian woman to achieve the World No.1 spot in doubles, recently clinched the Wimbledon crown along with Swiss star Martina Hingis. She has four Grand Slam titles in her kitty.
The Hyderabadi is only the second tennis player after Leander Paes to be named for the top sports award. Paes received the honour in 1996 after clinching the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
She had also received the Arjuna award in 2004 and was awarded the Padma Shri — the country’s fourth highest civilian honour — in 2006.
Among those who received the Arjuna awards, goalkeeper Sreejesh played a key role in India winning the Asian Games hockey gold medal and the Commonwealth Games (CWG) silver in 2014.
Rohit has scored 4312 runs in One-Day International (ODI) cricket. He holds the record of most number of runs (264) in an ODI. The right-handed batsman also played a key role in India’s performance at the 2015 World Cup where the team reached the semi-finals.
Pistol shooter Rai emerged champion at last year’s CWG and backed it up with another gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games. He is also a bronze medallist at last year’s World Championships.
Athlete Poovamma was part of the team that won the gold medals in the 4X400 metres relay race at the Asian Games as well as the Asian Athletics Championships. She won the bronze medal in the 400 metres race at the Asian Games 2014.
Kabaddi players Chillar and Abhilasha were part of the Asian Games gold medal winning men’s and women’s teams.
Wrestler Bajrang won the silver medal in the 60kg category at the 2013 World Championships. The promising young grappler also bagged silver medals at last year’s Asian Games and CWG.
Women’s World Wrestling Championships bronze medallist Babita also won a gold in the 55kg class at the 2014 CWG.
Woman gymnast Dipa got bronze medals in the CWG 2014 as well as at the Asian Championships.
Sathish is an Asian Games champion, while Sanathoi won a bronze medal in the wushu competition at the 2014 Asiad.