Friday, Aug 23, 2002
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Sports : General
By K.P. Mohan
After a series of meetings with sportspersons and administrators when the Union Sports Ministry announced last April that the selection panel would have a larger representation of eminent sportspersons than sports administrators, there was a ray of hope that, at long last, things were moving in the right direction.
A panel under Prakash Padukone, comprising many outstanding sportspersons, was duly constituted and it met over several sessions last month and this month, eventually leading to the announcement of the awards by the ministry on Wednesday.
Mercifully, there is no repeat of a `Rachna Govil'. But did the panel follow the conditions and procedures the ministry itself had laid down, in letter and spirit? Did it follow its own guidelines while sifting through the pile of recommendations? We will try to analyse the answers in the subsequent paragraphs.
No one will question the credentials of the panel members or, for that matter, their intentions. An attempt was made to be as transparent as possible and as fair as possible. And yet, there are a few intriguing selections not to speak of several notable omissions, though the latter could well be attributed to procedural hurdles.
No system can be perfect; no selection will satisfy everyone. But at the very outset if you flout your own ground rules, questions are bound to be asked.
In its notification dated April 3, the Union Sports Ministry had stated: "To be eligible for the award, a sportsperson should have had not only good performance consistently for the previous three years at the international level with excellence for the year for which the award is recommended but also should have shown qualities of leadership, sportsmanship and a sense of discipline.''
The emphasis was on "performance at international level'', keeping in mind the Rachna Govil controversy. In fact, when the ministry made the announcement to the Press, it was made very clear that only `international performance' would be taken into consideration.
In reality, national-level performances had also come into the picture, though we are not sure whether they did play a role in determining any award.
Curiously, the panel agreed to a points chart as the basis of criteria for comparing the nominees for the awards, though a footnote was added to that points sytem to suggest that it would be used only in the event of a tie. Whether such a tie did occur and the `tie-breaker' was applied or not is anyone's guess, but the system was flawed. In any case, where was the question of a tie in case there was no points system?
For one thing the performances in the National-level competitions should not have been taken into consideration even to break a tie, if the Government's notification was the basis on which the panel was functioning. For another, the points system seemed to weigh heavily in favour of `participation' rather than `achievement'.
Thus, the points chart scored 50 points for Olympics participation and 50 points for an Olympic gold! Equating an Olympic gold medal with mere participation in an Olympics defied all logic. Even more illogical was the 30 and 20 points scored for an Olympic silver and bronze respectively when compared to the 50 for Olympic participation.
The same tally applied to a World Cup or a World championship. That again is a rather ill-informed calculation since World Cups in many of the Olympic disciplines cannot be compared to the Olympis or the World championships.
For the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Asian championships, a 40-30-20-10 scoring (participation-gold-silver-bronze) was devised, effectively meaning that a Commonwealth Games `participation' will score over an Olympic silver! In all such meets, captaincy would have meant an additional 10 points.
The points chart even went down to the SAF Games and National championships level. For the SAF Games, SAARC Championships and other international meets of representative character, a points system of 30-20-10-5 was allotted while for the National championships, Federation Cup and National Games the figures were 10-3-2-1.
It would mean, in case a sportsperson simply participated in a National championship, Federation Cup and National Games in the same year he was in a position to score 30 points. In case he was the captain of a team in a National, he would have been richer by five more points.
The Padukone panel should have rejected this outrageous points system since it made a mockery of the `achievement' aspect which the Government and Padukone himself was so keen to recognise. Unless someone still gives credence to the Coubertin dictum, the points for mere participation was foolish, to put it mildly.
Even before the panel took up the names for consideration, it had breached a Government guideline. According to it, only the recognised National Sports Federations, the Indian Olympic Association and State/UT Governments were entiled to make the nominations.
The panel was presented with nominations (apparently with the concurrence of the Union Sports Ministry's representative in the panel, Mr. S.S. Rana, who was the member-secretary of the committee) received from, among others, a State Olympic Association Vice President, a Personal Secretary to the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers and even a Forest Department officer from one of the Southern States.
The screening should have been done at the ministry-Sports Authority of India (SAI) level and such nominations, which did not meet the basic norms, should have been excluded. That did not happen.
In the case of basketballer Parminder Singh, now selected to receive the award, the nominations considered were from non-basketball agencies. A basketball player is getting an Arjuna Award after a gap of 18 years.
Placings in qualifying rounds were mentioned under achievements of both Parminder and Amir Singh (volleyball). Parminder's achievements list for 2001 contained the SAARC championship gold and the `ABC qualifying cup silver' apart from a SAARC Games gold (an obvious duplication of the SAARC championship since there was no SAF Games in 2001) while that for Amir Singh mentioned a `World qualifying silver'' and a seventh place in Asian championships. That `World qualifying silver' happened to be a second place in one of the three Asian zone qualifying tournaments held in Doha.
Curious, though, are the achievements listed for Bruno Coutinho and I.M. Vijayan, both being recommended for the second year in succession by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). While Coutinho got the nod, Vijayan was left out, probably because he did not have anything listed against his name at the international or the National level in 2001.
For Coutinho, the international-level achiement in 2001 is the `Sahara Millennium Cup gold' even though India never won anything in that tournament. In fact India failed to progress beyond the group league stage.
For the same Millennium Cup, Vijayan has been given mere `participation', but in the year 2000! It was a one-off tournament held in 2001, in Bengal, Kerala and Goa.
The guffaw should have been spotted and rectified before the achievements were compiled and documented for the perusal of the panel members, many of whom might not have even known where India finished in the Millennium Cup, leave alone the performance of Coutinho or Vijayan.
The question is, did I.M. Vijayan miss out on an Arjuna Award simply because someone presented the wrong facts and figures before the selection committee?
Are the athletes missing out onthe award simply because the federation is sticking to its argument that no one but the federation should have the right to recommend names?
The Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) has not been recommending names for the past 12 years since it felt that the Government was considering names other than those recommended by it.
In fact, the Government had overlooked the federation's recommendations and brought in an entirely fresh name and given the award in the past, thus forcing the AAFI to back out, though it still continues to recommend names for the Dronacharya Award.
In recent years, the athletes have been recommending themselves to the SAI, listing their achievements while the SAI had compiled such cases and presented them at the time of selection committee meetings. There were strict instructions this year that personal recommendations would not be entertained.
This year, however, the AAFI was prepared to consider the matter afresh, formed a committee for the selection, finalised a list of three athletes for recommendation and then wrote to the ministry. Once again, the AAFI argued that names from outside its list should not be brought in, no matter that the panel select one or more or none at all from the federation's recommended list. There was no reply from the ministry though there was a reference to it seeking clarifications about a few athletes' performances. The AAFI kept mum and the athletes' case went by default.
``It is very unfortunate that there is no athlete in this year's awardees list,'' said the AAFI Secretary, Mr. Lalit Bhanot, on Thursday. Athletics brings in the maximum medals for the country at the Asian Games-level.
From the recent past, there are three athletes with gold medals at the Asian championships-level who are yet to get the Arjuna Award discus thrower Anil Kumar, who is engaged in a court case with the Government on the awards topic, javelin thrower Jagdish Bishnoi and high jumper Bobby Aloysius.
In the case of Anil Kumar, he also has a silver from the last Asian Games, while bronze winners from the Bangkok Games have been conferred with the award.
And now the case of Sandeep Kirtane. He got the award for the year in which he retired. He is currently a coach at the MSLTA. There is no performance worth mention for him in the year 2001 though his achievements sheet lists a semifinal placing in a doubles competition in an ITF Futures tournament. Perhaps this was the Government's way of saying goodbye to a player whose best happened to be in the years gone by.
Not many complaints might be there about the choice of Dronacharya awardees, billiards veteran Michael Ferreira and shooting coach, Prof Sunny Thomas, but the Government's decision to keep `oldtimers', who are no longer active, out of the purview of the award is debatable.
In the case of Arjuna Award, the lifetime contribution award, might not have created a furore last year but for Milkha Singh being chosen for the award along with a few unknown personalities. That controversy had nothing to do with the Dronacharya Award which could have been utilised to honour some of the veteran coaches still left out, including hockey `guru', Balkrishan Singh and athletics coach A.K. Kutty, who have results aplenty to show at every level. Lesser achievers have been conferred with the Dronacharya Award.
Honouring coaches who produce results in current competitions is all right if care is taken to ensure that a coach has had a long association with a particular medal winner and was not just a camp-related official.
Instant recognition for `instant results' will eventually pave the way for unfair practices. The Government has to make sure that it will not be fooled by men who take such short-cuts to success.
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