What Rani, Vinesh and Manika have done to win Khel Ratna Award

Paddler Manika Batra [top left], wrestler Vinesh Phogat [bottom left] and hockey star Rani Rampal [right] are the three women nominated for the 2020 Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award

Halts and interruptions because of Covid-19 has thrown 2020’s sporting calendar into disarray, but at least there’s some anticipation around who’ll take home India’s prestigious Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awards.

We’ve been starved for sporting action involving Indian athletes since March, but their excellent showings in the last 2 years cannot be discounted. Athletes like Vandana Kataria, Dutee Chand and Deepti Sharma possess serious credentials to stake a claim for the Arjuna Award.

But the Khel Ratna award holds special significance. It is after all, India’s highest sporting honour. Winning a medal, certificate and prize money is great. But being given the absolute top honour is what elevates an ‘athlete’ into an ‘elite athlete’ – among a distinguished bracket of legends.

The final shortlist is headlined by cricketer Rohit Sharma, whose standout performances included 5 centuries and scoring the most runs in the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup. Among other nominations include 2018 Asian Games gold medalists Neeraj Chopra and Amit Panghal. 

There is no cap on the number of honours given each year – there have been instances when nobody was awarded the Khel Ratna. But the final decision rests entirely on the discretion of the Ministry of Youth & Sports Affairs.  

So with the competition so intense all over, how have Rani Rampal, Vinesh Phogat and Manika Batra fared? 

Rani, perhaps has the brightest chance of winning. Her sparkling CV includes winning the ‘World Games Athlete of the Year Award’ earlier this year. The India captain put in a Player of the Tournament performance to lead the nation to victory in the 2019 FIH Series Finals in Japan. The Padma Shri awardee, who also led India to a silver medal at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, has played an instrumental role in India qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

In the World Wrestling Championships 2019, Vinesh kept the much famed ‘Phogat legacy’ intact by winning the bronze medal in the 53 kg category. In doing so, she cemented her spot at the Tokyo Olympics. The significance of the feat is heightened by the fact that she only recently made the switch to wrestling in the 53 kg, having fought in the 50 kg category throughout her early career.

At Jakarta in the 2018 Asian Games, she became the first female Indian wrestler to win gold at the Asian Games, beating the more fancied Japanese opponent Yuki Irie.

Manika Batra’s failure to fire the Women’s Team into the Tokyo Olympics could well sidetrack her cause for the honour. But the ministry would be reckless to overlook the 4 medals she brought home from the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – gold in the women’s team and women’s singles segment, silver in the women’s doubles and a bronze medal in the women’s doubles category. 

There’s no denying that Rohit Sharma’s standing has only risen over the past 24 months and he remains the most popular name on the shortlist. But if more than one athlete is presented the award which has happened since 2016, I fancy seeing one [and hopefully all] of these three ladies on the podium.

Also Read: 29 nominees, but who are the Arjuna Award favourites?

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