India's sporting heroes were bestowed the annual national awards in an unparalleled online ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic during which athletes logged in from multiple cities to be honoured by President Ram Nath Kovind.
This year a whopping 74 were picked for the national honours, including an unprecedented five Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratnas and 27 Arjuna awardees. Of these, 60 attended the virtual ceremony conducted across 11 Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres in various cities.
Cricketers Rohit Sharma (Khel Ratna) and Ishant Sharma (Arjuna) missed the ceremony due to their IPL commitments in the UAE, while star wrestler Vinesh Phogat (Khel Ratna) and badminton player Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (Arjuna) had to pull out of the ceremony after testing positive for the dreaded virus.
The other three Khel Ratna winners -- TT player Manika Batra, Paralympic gold-medallist Mariyappan Thangavelu and women's hockey captain Rani Rampal -- attended the ceremony.
While Batra logged in from Pune, Thangavelu and Rampal joined from the Bengaluru SAI centre.
President Kovind applauded as names of the attending awardees were called out and their achievements cited as is the convention. Missing, however, was the grandeur of the Rashtrapati Bhavan's Durbar Hall.
"This is the first awards ceremony in COVID times during which the President has participated," Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said at the beginning of the ceremony.
The athletes can look forward to enhanced cash awards this year. The prize money for the Khel Ratna was increased to Rs 25 lakh from the previous amount of Rs 7.5 lakh this morning.
Arjuna awardees, 22 of who attended the ceremony, were given Rs 15 lakh, which is Rs 10 lakh more than the previous sum.
The Dhronacharya (Lifetime) awardees, who were earlier given Rs 5 lakh, were awarded Rs 15 lakh, while the regular Dhronacharya came with Rs 10 lakh instead of Rs 5 lakh per awardee.
Dhyanchand Awardees were given Rs 10 lakh instead of Rs 5 lakh.
The strict COVID-19 protocol meant that for the first time in 44 years' history of the awards, the winners, guests and dignitaries did not gather at the Durbar Hall to be recognised for their excellence.
The top Arjuna awardees this year included star sprinter Dutee Chand, woman cricketer Deepti Sharma, golfer Aditi Ashok and men's hockey team striker Akashdeep Singh.
The Dronacharya award in the life-time category was bestowed on eight coaches, the prominent among them being archery coach Dharmendra Tiwary, Naresh Kumar (tennis), Shiv Singh (boxing) and Romesh Pathania (hockey).
In regular category, there were five recipients of the Dronacharya, including hockey coach Jude Felix and shooting coach Jaspal Rana among others.
In a tragic turn of events of Friday, a Dronacharya (Lifetime) winner, athletics coach Purushottam Rai, died in Bengaluru after suffering a heart attack.
The Dhyan Chand award this year was given to 15 individuals, including Sukhvinder Singh Sandhu (football), Trupti Murgunde (badminton) and Nandan Bal (tennis) among others.
Golfer Aditi Ashok and former footballer Sukhwinder Singh Sandhu did not attend the award function as they are out of the country.
All health and safety protocols, keeping with the guidelines of the Health Ministry, were followed at the venues where dignitaries and awardees were present.
In fact, awardees were seen clad in PPE kits as they made their way to the ceremony venues.
As per the direction of the Sports Ministry, every award winner had to undergo a COVID-19 test before reporting to the venue.
National Sports Award winners:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award: Rohit Sharma (Cricket), Mariyappan Thangavelu (Para Athletics), Manika Batra (Table Tennis), Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling), Rani Rampal (Hockey).
Arjuna Award: Atanu Das (Archery), Dutee Chand (Athletics), Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy (Badminton), Chirag Chandrasekhar Shetty (Badminton), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Basketball), Manish Kaushik (Boxing), Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing), Ishant Sharma (Cricket), Deepti Sharma (Cricket), Sawant Ajay Anant (Equestrian), Sandesh Jhingan (Football), Aditi Ashok (Golf), Akashdeep Singh (Hockey), Deepika (Hockey), Deepak (Kabaddi), Kale Sarika Sudhakar (Kho Kho), Dattu Baban Bhokanal (Rowing), Manu Bhaker (Shooting), Saurabh Chaudhary (Shooting), Madhurika Patkar (Table Tennis), Divij Sharan (Tennis), Shiva Keshavan (Winter Sports), Divya Kakran (Wrestling), Rahul Aware (Wrestling), Suyash Narayan Jadhav (Para Swimming), Sandeep (Para Athletics), Manish Narwal (Para Shooting).
Dronacharya Award (Life- Time Category): Dharmendra Tiwary (Archery), Purushotham Rai (Athletics), Shiv Singh (Boxing), Romesh Pathania (Hockey), Krishan Kumar Hooda (Kabaddi), Vijay Bhalchandra Munishwar (Para Powerlifting), Naresh Kumar (Tennis), Om Parkash Dahiya (Wrestling).
Regular Category: Jude Felix (Hockey), Yogesh Malviya (Mallakhamb), Jaspal Rana (Shooting), Kuldeep Kumar Handoo (Wushu), Gaurav Khanna (Para Badminton).
Dhyan Chand Award: Kuldip Singh Bhullar (Athletics), Jincy Philips (Athletics), Pradeep Shrikrishna Gandhe (Badminton), Trupti Murgunde (Badminton), N Usha(Boxing), Lakha Singh (Boxing), Sukhvinder Singh Sandhu (Football), Ajit Singh (Hockey), Manpreet Singh (Kabaddi), J Ranjith Kumar (Para Athletics), Satyaprakash Tiwari (Para Badminton), Manjeet Singh (Rowing), Late Shri Sachin Nag (Swimming), Nandan Bal (Tennis), Netarpal Hooda (Wrestling).
Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Anita Devi (Land Adventure), Col Sarfraz Singh (Land Adventure), Taka Tamut (Land Adventure), Narender Singh (Land Adventure), Keval Hiren Kakka (Land Adventure), Satendra Singh (Water Adventure), Gajanand Yadava (Air Adventure), Late Magan Bissa (Life Time Achievement).
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy: Panjab University, Chandigarh Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar:
Identification and Nurturing of Budding and Young Talent: Lakshya Institute, Army Sports Institute.
Encouragement to sports through Corporate Social Responsibility: Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Ltd.
Employment of sportspersons and sports welfare measures: Air Force Sports Control Board.
Sports for Development: International Institute of Sports Management (IISM).