No doing away with lobbying

Troubled by the recent controversies surrounding the national sports awards, the sports ministry has introduced new criteria to ensure deserving sportspersons get the Arjuna Award.

As per the new system, 90 per cent weightage will be given for the medals won in various international events and every medal winner will be awarded points. The remaining 10 per cent shall be in the hands of the jury, assigned on the basis of the reputation of the athlete concerned (conduct in various tournaments, doping history and such).

The purpose of introducing a marking system is to bring more transparency and objectivity in determining the recipients of the award. So, for example, if three shooters stake a claim for the award at the same time, the jury can simply refer to their performances and the marksman with most points will be nominated for the award. By this logic, this experiment should work well. However, in some cases it will defeat the purpose.

Sport can, at times, transcend results. Those who win do not always merit an award. And there is a risk that the marking system will eliminate the subjective aspect when selecting an awardee, thereby significantly reducing the chances of achievers from sports (more so in the case of a team sport, but also otherwise) where India does not excell internationally. If this system was enforced earlier, one wonders if footballer Sunil Chhetri or volleyball player Sanjay Kumar Phogat would have won the Arjuna; similarly, Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan or woman basketball player Geethu Anna Jose will have slim chances of winning the award in the future.

Indeed, there is a clause in the new regulations which empowers the jury to nominate an athlete who they feel is deserving. However, how efficiently this is implemented is anyone's guess.

That means the jury's role in determining the winners becomes more crucial that before. A high-ranking official who was involved in designing this new process said the only area where there is scope for lobbying is when the judges sit with the short-listed names. The jury consists of eminent sportspersons and one would expect them to be fair and unbiased. Quite sadly, though, it seems we have resigned to the fact that lobbying is an aspect that cannot be completely weeded out of the system.

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