In an unusual move that has surprised the respective federations and the sports fraternity, both Sakshi and Mirabai have applied for this year’s Arjuna awards, despite having already been honoured with the country’s highest sporting honour.
“We can’t stop her. She applied and we forwarded her application to the sports ministry,” Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) secretary general Sahdev Yadav told TOI. “It’s her dream to get the Arjuna. She told us that she wanted to see Arjuna awardee alongside her name. Who are we to stop her?” Yadav added.
Mirabai said, “I know Khel Ratna is the highest award but I missed out on the Arjuna award earlier and I want that too. Sometimes you want all of it. Players like to get the Arjuna award. I had also applied for the Arjuna award in 2018. We had applied for both the Arjuna award and the Khel Ratna then.”
Yadav said, “Mirabai didn’t ask for Khel Ratna. She didn’t apply for the Khel Ratna ever. The ministry gave her the award in 2018.”
Sakshi Malik’s application for the Arjuna has shocked officials in the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
“It is like you’ve already done your Phd in a subject and then applied for a graduation in the same subject,” a WFI official said. “She had no achievement before the Rio Olympics, so her name was not sent for Arjuna. Since she won a bronze in Rio, she directly got the Khel Ratna that time. Now she wants the Arjuna award as well.”
Repeated calls to Sakshi over her Arjuna application went unanswered.
WFI secretary general V N Prasood said, “The athlete has applied and our duty is to forward it to the sports ministry. How can we scuttle any application? Now there will be a committee that the ministry will form and they’ll decide further.”
There are quite a few perks attached with the Arjuna, including free rail travel and some air travel benefits for the awardees, which might have prompted the applications.
An official in the Union Sports Ministry clarified that there has been no precedence of a sportsperson getting the Arjuna after having already received the Khel Ratna. If Sakshi or Mirabai get the Arjuna this year, it will be the first such case.
“A unique thing that has happened. In fact, it has also stupefied us. We will have to contemplate the course of action,” he said.
Interestingly, out of the 38 Khel Ratna awardees, so far only three have not got the Arjuna. The three are Sakshi, Mirabai and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The former India cricket captain got the Khel Ratna in 2007, but never applied for the Arjuna.