Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the sports ministry for naming ace tennis star Sania Mirza for the coveted Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
City-based Paralympic Games medallist H.R. Girisha filed a writ petition in the high court against the ministry and the 28-year-old Sania over her selection this year for the prestigious award although she is ranked world number one in women’s doubles.
“Justice A.S. Bopanna served notice to the ministry and Sania, seeking their response to objections made by my client Girisha in the next 15 days,” counsel M.S. Shamsundar told reporters here.
Sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal on August 14 approved Sania’s nomination for the highest sporting honour following the August 11 recommendation of the ministry’s awards committee, headed by Justice V.K. Bali, a retired Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.
Though the President presents the Khel Ratna award every year on the National Sports Day (August 29), it remains to be seen if the ministry would go ahead with the ceremony in light of the court notice.
“Girisha is not against Sania getting the prestigious award, but against the ministry, which overlooked him, despite the fact that he scored 90 points in contrast to 42 points by the latter (Sania), as the selection is based on points system,” Shamsundar asserted.
The criteria for the award is the performance of a sportsperson in international events such as Olympics, Paralympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships since 2011.
“Girisha deserved to win Khel Ratna as he is a rightful contender with 90 points during the year under reference for the selection, as he had won silver medal in the 2012 London Paralympics,” Shamsundar reiterated.
Girisha also told the court that the Hyderabadi became world number one in women's doubles only after winning the 2015 Wimbledon Championships title as a partner with Martina Hingis of Switzerland and is not successful in singles.
“How was Sania’s latest achievement factored for the award, as it (Wimbledon) was not in the sporting events specified in the official notification for this year’s Khel Ratna’s nominations,” Shamsundar contended.
According to the ministry’s notification, only performances at Olympics, Paralympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships since 2011 will be considered for the top award, while Sania had won the Grand Slam in 2015.
Sania made history by becoming the first Indian to win a women’s doubles Grand Slam title by clinching the Wimbledon trophy in London on July 11.
Sania is the second tennis player to be named for the top award after Leander Paes, who was bestowed the honour in 1996 after he won the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the US.
Squash player Deepika Pallikal, discus thrower Vikas Gowda, track and field star Tintu Luka, rising shuttler P.V. Sindhu, and hockey captain Sardar Singh were also in the race for the Khel Ratna, which carries a cash prize of Rs.7.5 lakh along with a citation.
Sania, who received the Arjuna award in 2004, was also conferred the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award in 2006.
Sania won three mixed doubles Grand Slams in her career at the Australian Open (2009), French Open (2012) and US Open (2014) besides gold medal and bronze medal in the mixed and women’s doubles categories of the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon in South Korea.