Ace long jumper Anju Bobby George has been declared winner of the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for her outstanding performances last year, during which she won a bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships.
Fifteen sportspersons, including Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, were named for the Arjuna Award for outstanding performances in their respective disciplines in 2003.
There was double joy for Anju as her husband and personal trainer Robert 'Bobby' George was named for the Dronacharya award, an honour conferred on coaches.
Announcing the list of awardees in Delhi on Wednesday, Major H P S Ahluwalia, chairman of the Awards committee, said Anju will also receive a purse of Rs 500,000 along with a statuette, scroll of honour and ceremonial dress, which the Arjuna awardees will also receive along with Rs 300,000 each.
Cricketer Harbhajan Singh and former India hockey coach Rajinder Singh were named for the Arjuna and Dronacharya Awards respectively. However, their selection has kicked off a controversy as the ace spinner was nursing a finger injury for most of 2003 while Rajinder, a member of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning team, was sacked as coach of the Indian team by the Indian Hockey Federation shortly before the Athens Olympics.
Ahluwalia clarified that the BCCI had submitted only two names for consideration.
"One of them was that of spinner Harbhajan Singh and the other was of Yuvraj Singh. And we selected Harbhajan Singh on the basis of better performance," he said.
Asked what was the criterion adopted for selecting the spinner, he replied that Harbhajan had taken 151 wickets in Test matches and 174 wickets in One-Day Internationals in the last three years.
"Since only two names were sent by the BCCI we had to select one of them," he added.
He also justified Rajinder Singh's selection for the Dronacharya award.
"His name was sent by the Indian Hockey Federation and was not withdrawn by the IHF despite him being sacked. Hence, he was considered for selection," Ahluwalia explained.
He made it clear that the committee to select the Dronacharya awardees was headed by former World billiards champion Michael Ferreira, who was not present at the press conference to announce the awardees.
Questions were also raised about the selection of Sukhchain Singh Cheema (wrestling coach) and Shokinder Tomar, wrestler. Sports scribes wanted to know if the two fulfilled the criterion to receive the Dronacharya and Arjuna awards respectively.
"As a mountaineer I had a difficult task ahead of me for selecting the candidates for these awards and it is not easy to please everyone," Ahluwalia said.
He was also made to read out the achievements of some of the awardees as listed in the recommendation letters by their federations.
The winners' list:
Dronachary Award: Robert George (athletics), Anoop Kumar (boxing), Rajinder Singh (hockey), Sukhchain Singh Cheema (wrestling).
Arjuna Award: Soma Biswas (athletics), Madhuri Saxena (athletics), Pankaj Advani (cue sports - billiards and snooker), M C Merrycom (boxing), Koneru Humpy (chess), Rajesh Pattu (equestrian), Devesh Chouhan (hockey), Suraj Lata Devi (hockey), Akram Shah (judo), Sanjeev Kumar (kabaddi), Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (shooting), Harbhajan Singh (cricket), Mithali Raj (cricket), Shokinder Tomar (wrestling), N M Srinivas Rao (paralympic games).
Dhyanchand Award: Labh Singh (athletics), Hardayal Singh (hockey), M D Parsuram (physically handicapped).
Tenzing Norgay National adventure awards: Bula Chodhary (Lifetime acheivement award); Brian Dermot Kharpran Daly (Land adventure); Relu Ram Thakur (Water adventure).
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.