India’s best-performing athletes were on Tuesday conferred with the national sports awards by President Droupadi Murmu in a regal ceremony where cricketer Mohammed Shami and para archer Sheetal Devi walked in to a rapturous applause at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Shuttlers Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were chosen for the coveted Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award for a breakout 2023, during which they won their maiden Asian Games gold — a first for India in badminton –, while also clinching the Asian Championships title and the Indonesia Open Super 1000 title.
The duo is currently playing in Malaysia Open Super 1000 and therefore skipped the function.
The awards ceremony, usually held on August 29 to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand, was deferred because of the Hangzhou Asian Games from September 23 till October 8 last year.
An atmosphere of gaiety pervaded the Rashtrapati Bhawan as 26 athletes and para-athletes were finalised for the Arjuna Awards this year, with teenager pistol ace Esha Singh the only one to miss the ceremony.
The 19-year-old Esha is competing in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Jakarta and, on Monday, had qualified for the Paris Olympics after winning the individual and team gold in 10m air pistol.
The imprint of the Asian Games last year, and India’s record haul of 107 medals there, was evident in the ceremony as a majority of the athletes, who walked to the dais, were medal winners in Hangzhou.
The Durbar Hall reverberated with the claps of the dignitaries when para archer Sheetal Devi, winner of three gold medals at the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou, walked up to collect her Arjuna.
The 16-year-old is the only international para-archery champion without upper limbs due to a rare medical condition called Phocomelia. The President held Sheetal’s award and the scroll as the teenager soaked in the atmosphere and the splendour of the hall.
Murmu then walked down the podium to present the Arjuna to wheelchair-bound para-canoeist Prachi Yadav, winner of gold in Hangzhou, once again drawing a huge round of applause.
Shami, who is currently recovering from an ankle injury, was there to receive the honours and the crowd duly acknowledged his achievements by giving him and his art the pride of place with an ovation.
The pace bowler took 24 wickets in seven World Cup games last year.
“My aim is to keep myself fit as far as possible, as the next two tournaments and series are big. I will focus on fitness,” he told PTI at a sports ministry reception last night.
Also receiving a huge round of applause was the newly-crowned chess Grandmaster R. Vaishali, the elder sister of precocious chess talent R. Praggnanandhaa.
Vaishali was honoured for becoming the third woman from the country after Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika to turn GM.
Other sporting bigwigs who were chosen for the Arjuna award this year were wrestler Antim Panghal, a former junior world champion and bronze-winner at the senior event last year, boxer Mohammad Hussamuddin (bronze-winner at last year’s world championship), and athlete Parul Chaudhary.
Among the notable Dronacharya awardees this year is chess coach RB Ramesh, who has groomed Praggnanandhaa.
While the Khel Ratna comes with a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh, the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards include a cash prize of Rs 15 lakh.
The recipients (2023 awards):
Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award for 2023: Chirag Shetty and Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy (badminton).
Arjuna Awards: Ojas Pravin Deotale (archery), Aditi Gopichand Swami (archery), Murali Sreeshankar (athletics), Parul Chaudhary (athletics), Mohammad Hussamuddin (boxing), R Vaishali (chess), Mohammed Shami (cricket), Anush Agarwalla (equestrian), Divyakriti Singh (equestrian dressage), Diksha Dagar (golf), Krishan Bahadur Pathak (hockey), Sushila Chanu (hockey), Pawan Kumar (kabaddi), Ritu Negi (kabaddi), Nasreen (kho-kho), Pinki (lawn bowls), Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar (shooting), Esha Singh (shooting), Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu (squash), Ayhika Mukherjee (table tennis), Sunil Kumar (wrestling), Antim Panghal (wrestling), Naorem Roshibina Devi (wushu), Sheetal Devi (para archery), Illuri Ajay Kumar Reddy (blind cricket), Prachi Yadav (para canoeing).
Dronacharya Award (regular category) for outstanding coaches: Lalit Kumar (wrestling), RB Ramesh (chess), Mahaveer Prasad Saini (para athletics), Shivendra Singh (hockey), Ganesh Prabhakar Devrukhkar (mallakhamb).
Dronacharya Award (life-time category) for outstanding coaches: Jaskirat Singh Grewal (golf), Bhaskaran E (kabaddi), Jayanta Kumar Pushilal (table tennis).
Dhyan Chand Award for lifetime achievement: Manjusha Kanwar (badminton), Vineet Kumar Sharma (hockey), Kavitha Selvaraj (kabaddi).
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy 2023: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (overall winner university); Lovely Professional University, Punjab (1st runner -up), Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra (2nd runner-up).