NEW DELHI: Ace discus thrower Krishna Poonia on Sunday got more support for her recommendation for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award with Olympians, including London Games bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, throwing their weight behind her.
Prominent Olympians and Arjun awardees were of the view that Poonia should also be recommended for the country’s top sporting award, along with double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi whose name has already been recommended by a selection panel under controversial circumstances.
“Poonia is a deserving candidate and she has won Commonwealth Games gold and a sixth-place finish in London Olympics. It was no mean achievement. The whole wrestling community is behind her and we would like to urge the sports minister to reconsider the selection panel’s decision,” Yogeshwar said.
“My suggestion is that Poonia should be conferred the award along with Sodhi as was the case in 2009 when Sushil Kumar, Mary Kom and Vijender Singh had got the award. She is the first Indian woman athlete to win gold in Commonwealth Games (in 2010 in New Delhi),” the London Olympics bronze medallist wrestler added.
Yogeshwar’s fellow grappler and two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar had also thrown his weight behind Poonia.
“The government should jointly confer the Khel Ratna award to two of our best athletes — Poonia and Sodhi. Both deserve the highest honour. Both are best in their respective field,” Sushil had said a few days back.
The recommendation of Sodhi for Khel Ratna had sparked off a controversy with some members of the selection panel questioning the process of his selection. It was learnt that Sodhi’s name was not there when the majority of members decided to vote for the Khel Ratna awardee but brought back later for consideration.
A selection panel member had said that Poonia and London Paralympics silver medallist HN Girisha were shortlisted for voting by 11 out of 12 selection panel members and Sodhi’s name was not considered initially. The scenario changed after one member, a former shooter, came in late for the meeting and Girisha’s name was removed and there was voting between Sodhi and Poonia.
Poonia was initially tipped for the recommendation as she had more support among the members till Sodhi’s name was brought back.
Dronacharya Award-winning wrestling coach Yashbir Singh said the Khel Ratna panel took into account the performance of year 2012 while selecting the candidate for the award and that criteria makes Poonia much more deserving candidate than Sodhi.
“Poonia finished sixth in London Olympics. There was no other better performance than her in 2012. If you take into account the performances of last year, I think Poonia deserves the honour much more than other candidates. She proved her credentials and should be honoured with the award,” he said.
Yashpal Solanki, Judo chief national coach and Arjuna awardee, also threw his weight behind Poonia and said the whole judoka community supports her case.
“We want the award to be given to her as she has time and again proved her credentials. We are not against anyone but she is also a deserving candidate. We want both Poonia and Sodhi should be jointly given the award,” Solanki said.
Asian Games gold medallist boxer Rajkumar Sangwan also backed Poonia for the Khel Ratna award.
“We want the sports minister to reconsider Poonia’s case. Poonia and Sodhi be jointly conferred the Khel Ratna as was the case last year when the award was jointly given to shooter Vijay Kumar and wrestler Yogeshwar,” said Sangwan who is also an Arjuna awardee.
1966 Bangkok Asian Games gold medal winning wrestler and president of 60-member Haryana Arjuna Awardee Association, Bhim Singh said, “All members of our association support her and we are demanding the inclusion of her name in the awards list. We will try and meet the sports minister tomorrow at his office.”