It was a memorable day for Indian table tennis icon Manika Batra who was bestowed with nation's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, by President Ram Nath Kovind in a virtual ceremony on Saturday.
However, this year's award came with its set of criticism as many questioned if Manika did enough to be recommended by the National Sports Award Selection Committee. Her charismatic show at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games duly won her the Arjuna. But a pale 2019 followed by lack of tournaments in 2020 questioned the justification for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games double gold medallist, however, shunned the critics, saying she seldom pays attention to what people say behind her back.
"To be honest, an athlete's job is to perform for India and I am always focussed on that -- making my country proud by performing well," Manika told IANS. "It's not my decision to be recommended for the awards, the committee does that. I can only perform to make my claims and I intend to keep doing so without paying attention to what people are saying behind my back."
Manika expressed her happiness on being conferred with the biggest sports award of India and said she was grateful to everyone who made it happen.
"I am happy to be conferred with Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. I am grateful that the nation and the government recognised my achievements in table tennis. I am also grateful to those who have been supportive of me, especially the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India, table tennis federation, the entire table tennis fraternity, my training team in Pune and all my sponsors, including IOS. Their support and wishes were important," said Manika.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are less than a year away and the current world No. 63 is still to confirm her berth at the Games. Manika admitted that given the uncertainty around the Olympics she is solely focussed on training. "I don't know what exactly is my immediate target since things are uncertain as far as tournaments are concerned. But for now, I am sweating out in the training and keeping myself motivated. Getting conferred with Khel Ratna further helps," she said.
"I am yet to achieve a lot in my career, that includes doing well for India at the Olympics. For that, my eyes are currently on improving my world rankings and I am willing to do all the hard work for it," Manika said.