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|August 18, 2001||
Balkishen too may return Arjuna award
Milkha Singh's rejection of the Arjuna award for lifetime sporting achievement could have a cascading effect with at least two prominent sportspersons saying they want to join the legendary athlete in returning the honour.
Hockey coach Balkishen Singh and boxer Gurcharan Singh have been quick to follow the "Flying Sikh" in recording their disappointment over the manner in which the awards are given out.
Balkishen Singh coached the team that last won an Olympic gold for India at Moscow in 1980. He has said that to give him an Arjuna award for "lifetime achievement" eleven years after the event is not "commensurate" with his record. He is expected to formally announce his decision in Chandigarh on Sunday.
Balkishen Singh, like Milkha Singh, was named for the award in this year's list. Milkha Singh said on Thursday he would not accept a "lifetime achievement" award as it had come too late and did not match his achievements. Milkha Singh had narrowly missed the bronze in the 400 metres at the Rome Olympics in 1960.
Balkishen Singh has written protest letters to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sports Minister Uma Bharati, saying that he deserved a better honour. The Arjuna award, he said, is "not commensurate with my achievements" as a successful player and coach. He said he is also opposed to the award being given to veteran sportspersons and has demanded the institution of a separate award for this category.
A source close to Balkishen Singh said from Ludhiana, his hometown, that he would be joined at his press conference by veteran cricket trainer Desh Prem Azad, who is a recipient of the Dronacharya award for excellence in coaching.
A member of Azad's family was, however, quick to dispel suggestions that he would follow Balkishen Singh in returning his award, given to him in 1986.
"No way, he is not returning his award," she said.
The case of Gurcharan Singh, who missed the bronze medal at last year's Sydney Olympics by a whisker, is a little more complicated - because it is not clear how and when he will return his award. The boxer is said to have "defected" and his whereabouts are not known. What is known is that Milkha Singh's move has prompted him to do likewise.
"His (Milkha Singh) move to reject the award is an exemplary one," the 24-year-old boxer has been quoted in the media as saying. "I think such steps, like returning all medals and awards in protest, may break the slumber of the authorities who, while sitting in air-conditioned rooms, decide who deserves what." Gurcharan Singh said.
Gurcharan Singh had gone missing in February while on his way to the Czech Republic with an Indian team for a training camp. The Indian Army, with which he was serving, has declared him a deserter.
The sports ministry, meanwhile, has denied Milkha Singh's charge that the Prime Minister's Office had "interfered" in the selection of Arjuna awardees, saying the allegations are "totally baseless, false and imaginary."
"The process of selection is transparent and it is no way affected by any extraneous considerations. Allegations levelled to the effect that the PMO in any way has interfered in the selection of the Arjuna awardees are totally baseless, false and imaginary," the ministry said in a statement.
A member of the selection committee, when approached for his comments on this year's awards, declined to speak. "Please excuse me, I will not comment on that since the sanctity of the committee is concerned," he said.
Indo-Asian News Service
Mail Sports Editor
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