Friday, August 17, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Milkha Singh not to accept Arjuna Award
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 16
A sad and visibly disturbed ‘‘Flying Sikh’’ Milkha Singh, probably the most celebrated Indian athlete of all times, today refused to accept the Arjuna Award for lifetime contribution, saying: “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved”.

Addressing a crowded press conference at the Chandigarh Golf Club here, Milkha Singh said he had sent a letter to Union Sports Minister Uma Bharti conveying his decision. The letter was sent to Delhi yesterday. The Arjuna and other sports awards are scheduled to be awarded later this month by the President of India, Mr K.R. Narayanan.

Milkha Singh disclosed that he had taken the decision after a 15-minute telephonic conversation with Ms Bharti and taking into account the sentiments expressed by people and well-wishers in India and abroad, who suggested that he should not accept the award.

Milkha Singh, who also released a copy of the letter, said the Arjuna Awards, instituted in 1961, were being given to those who did not deserve them. “I am against this award itself and the way it is awarded”. He said he was of the view that the national sports awards like the Arjuna should be decided by specialists who had a deep understanding of the subject.

He claimed that politicians and ministers recommended names for grant of Arjuna Awards, which were supposed to be given to those who won medals at international events, including the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and world championships. “Even the Prime Minister’s Office makes recommendation of names”, the Flying Sikh alleged.

‘‘It is of no use giving such awards to such persons who might produce one freak performance during their lifetime ,’’ he remarked and added that nowadays even officials and coaches helped athletes to cook up performance figures in an apparent effort to grab an award or two. He also alleged that athletes took to drugs to perform better at home ‘‘but once they go abroad they are totally exposed since abroad all athletes are tested for drugs.’’

In his letter, Milkha Singh thanked the Centre for including his name, adding “it would have been appreciable, if a new-named higher award had been instituted, keeping in view my achievements, which had not been brought to your kind notice”.

Listing his achievements, he informed the Union Sports Minister in the letter that he had won four gold medals in the Asian Games, a gold in the Commonwealth Games in 1958, the first and last till date, ran 80 races all over the world winning 77, was awarded the Helms World Trophy in 1959 by the USA by virtue of being the best 400-metre runner in the world and broke the Olympic record in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

“In view of the above achievements, clubbing me with sportspersons who are nowhere to the level that I had achieved is not desirable. My sportspersons friends in India and abroad are all strongly concerned and they are justified because I had already been honoured with the Padma Shri immediately after my achievement in 1958”, he said.

The former international athlete also held Ms Bharti responsible for lowering the prestige of Arjuna Awards by giving them to undeserving individuals but put the maximum blame on officials and the committee which selects the awardees. Declining to name the ‘‘non-deserving’’ awardees in the list, he said even those who participated in kho kho, swimming and basketball, were being awarded. Although he did not name anybody it was apparent that he was deeply hurt by those former athletes who have been awarded the Arjuna this year for ‘‘lifetime contribution.’’

“I personally feel that you had good intentions, but the officers holding the sports portfolios for a long period, had not apprised your goodself the pros and cons of each awardee vis-a-vis the guidelines laid down for the Arjuna Award,” Milkha Singh wrote in the letter. The “prestige of the award has gone down. I will get a bad name if I accept it,” Milkha Singh said, adding, “it is surprising that organisers of Asian and other games have also been honoured with national awards, specially after the 1982 Delhi Asian Games.’’

“I would like to put up a humble proposal that objective guidelines may be framed for future awards so that there could be no deviation with subjective outlook leading to heart burning amongst genuine sportspersons. In case my services are required in this connection, I would always be available,” the letter said.

The discrepancy was evident as “ while the list of awardees shows many non-deserving sportspersons, there is a long list of deserving sportspersons who had not been considered till today,” Milkha Singh said.

“The regard and love I have received from my countrymen here and abroad is the highest award, which I can never forget. The lifetime achievement award should have been given in the real sense and not in the form of Arjuna Award,” the letter said.

Speaking in a lighter vein Milkha Singh said that “after the Padma Shri in 1958, the Arjuna Award in 2001 looks as if the government is trying to give me a matric certificate after an MA degree. The Arjuna Award, least to say, could have been given to me in 1961 when it was first instituted,” he said. At that time, he reminded the media persons, he was at his peak, performance-wise.

‘‘No I would be a misfit as a Member of Parliament,’’ he replied when asked whether he would accept a nominated seat in the Rajya Sabha , ‘‘ but I will make a very good Union Minister of Sports and if given the job I will make the criteria for giving such awards transparent and clean. ’’Back

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