India's [ Images ] No. 1 snooker player Aditya Mehta, who has been chosen for the prestigious Arjuna award, has said that this recognition would help raise the profile of his sport in the country.
It was as many as seven years ago in 2005 that a Billiards & Snooker player last bagged an Arjuna award and Aditya feels that this honour would bring the game back on the country's map.
"It's been a dream come true for me. We have seen all the greats from our sport going ahead and winning this laurel. I always wanted to be a part of something special. After a long time, a cueist has been selected for this honour and I hope this (award) will help our sport," Aditya said.
"Last time, it was in 2005. We really needed something to bring us back on the map, especially with (this sport) not being part of the Olympics [ Images ] and the Asian Games now. It was really tough to keep snooker in the limelight. So, it will help in bringing us back into the picture," he added.
Aditya, who had made everyone take notice of him earlier this year when he had stunned fancied compatriot Pankaj Advani [ Images ] to become only the third Indian ever to clinch the Asian Snooker Championships, said he had been waiting for this honour for years now.
"I have been hoping for this to happen for years. There were lot of good performances over the last three years or so but somehow this award always eluded me. When it comes to Arjuna award, we need something big. Finally this year I think winning the Asian title helped my cause. It gave me the opportunity to finally get recognised.
"These awards are not given just for good performances, it needs to be something extraordinary, something special. I'm happy that after all those runner-up trophies, silver and bronze medals, finally gold (Asian title) came my way and that made all this happen," Aditya, who made his debut in 2002, said.
Aditya, currently ranked 80, is amongst 25 athletes chosen by the selection committee headed by 2004 Athens Olympics silver-medallist shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore [ Images ] for the Arjuna award, which is one of the biggest honours in Indian sport and the cueist knows its importance.
"I couldn't have asked for more. The hard work that I have put in has finally paid off. I had never doubted my abilities. I knew it would happen someday. But the years were passing by and obviously you feel 'when this will happen to me' but now it feels really special."
The Mumbaikar, who had brought the championships trophy home after a gap of eight years, said it feels "sad" that cue sport is not a part of the Olympic programme.
"We do feel sad that it is not a part of the Olympics but if it is included during my career then I am confident of making the most of it," said Aditya, who has earned a two-year card on the professional circuit (quota place for India), along with Advani.
"The game is famous internationally but it comes as a package (billiards, snooker, pool) and it is very difficult to bring that whole cue sport package into Olympics. If it was like separate individual sport, may be there was a better chance of it getting included. "Another major drawback of his sport is the fact that it is not so popular among women and participation of women is almost negligible," he added.
Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images