Sania Mirza on Tuesday became only the second tennis player to be recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, while star cricketer Rohit Sharmaand ace shooter Jitu Rai were among the 17 sportspersons picked for this year’s Arjuna awards.
Sania, currently ranked world number one in women’s doubles, scripted history by becoming the first Indian to clinch a women’s doubles Grand Slam when she partnered Swiss great Martina Hingis for the Wimbledon trophy earlier this year.
Sania is only the second tennis player after Leander Paes to be named for the top award. Paes had been bestowed the honour way back in 1996 after his bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics.
The 28-year-old, who has won three mixed doubles Grand Slams in her career, beat competition from squash player Deepika Pallikal, discus thrower Vikas Gowda, track and field star Tintu Luka, rising shuttler P V Sindhu, and hockey captain Sardar Singh for the coveted honour.
Sania’s name was recommended by a Sports Ministry- constituted awards committee headed by Justice VK Bali, the retired Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.
The committee included eminent athletes such as Dola Banerjee, MM Somayya and Bhogeshwar Baruah and sports journalists apart from top officials of the Sports Ministry.
It is learnt that the committee recommended 17 names for the Arjuna awards, including those of Jitu, Rohit, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, hockey player P R Sreejesh, wrestling duo of Bajrang and Babita, athlete M R Poovamma, shuttler K Srikanth and boxer Mandeep Jangra.
The recommendations will now be sent to the Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who will take a final decision. Only after the Sports Minister signs the file, the names would be made public. The awards are to be given away by the President Pranab Mukherjee on August 29, the National Sports Day.
The Khel Ratna carries a prize money of Rs 7.5 lakh along with a citation, while the Arjuna awards come with a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh and a citation. Besides doing well on the professional circuit, Sania had also won the gold medal and the bronze medal in the mixed and women’s doubles categories of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.