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Vinesh Phogat to be Recommended for Khel Ratna by WFI for Second Straight Year

File photo of Vinesh Phogat (Photo Credit: AP)

File photo of Vinesh Phogat (Photo Credit: AP)

Vinesh Phogat was recommended for the Khel Ratna last year as well, alongside Bajrang Punia, who ended winning the prestigious honour.

Vinesh Phogat is set to be recommended by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for India's highest sporting honour the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. This will be the second consecutive time that the 25-year-old would be recommended for the award.

WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh will finalise the recommendations and send it to the Sports Ministry on Monday. "For the Khel Ratna, Vinesh is our sole recommendation," WFI secretary Vinod Tomar told IANS on Sunday.

Vinesh was recommended for the prestigious sporting honour last year as well, alongside Bajrang Punia, but the latter ended up winning the award along with 2016 Paralympics silver medallist Deepa Malik. Vinesh had previously won the Arjuna Award in 2016.

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Vinesh currently holds the third spot in the world rankings in the 53kg category. She qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in her first attempt by winning bronze at the 2019 Wrestling World Championships. She then started 2020 with a gold at the Rome Ranking Series and later won bronze at the 2020 Asian Championships in New Delhi. It was her second consecutive bronze in the competition having won the same in Xi'an last year.

Vinesh was a medal contender going into the 2016 Olympics but a career-threatening injury in the quarter-final ended her quest in Rio. Since returning to wrestling, Vinesh won gold at the 2018 Asian Games and her performances over the past two years means she remains a medal contender going into the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

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The Sports Ministry on May 5 invited nominations for the 2020 National Sports Awards including the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and the Arjuna Award. The ministry has asked for nominations to be sent via e-mail in view of the coronavirus situation.

The process, which usually starts in April, has been delayed due to the pandemic. "Due to lockdown on account of the outbreak of COVID-19, hard copies of nominations are not required to be sent. Scanned copies of the nominations duly signed by the applicant/recommending authority may be sent at above mentioned email ids, before last date of submission," said the ministry in its circular.


Rio Olympic bronze winner Sakshi Malik wants to be in contention for the Arjuna award, although she already already is a recipient of country's highest sporting honour

A WFI source said Sakshi, who has been struggling badly of late, has sent her application for the Arjuna. She had got Khel Ratna in 2016 along with gymnast Dipa Karmakar and shooter Jitu Rai.

Recently she lost twice to young grappler Sonam Malik, who stopped the elite athlete from making the cut even for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers.

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It will be interesting to see if WFI sends her name since 2019 World Championship silver medallist Deepak Punia (86kg) and very-talented Rahul Aware (61kg, non-olympic category) have also sent their applications for the Arjuna.

"She had no achievement before the Rio Games, so her name was not sent for Arjuna. Since she won a bronze in Rio, she (directly) got the Khel Ratna that time. Now she wants the Arjuna award as well," the source said.

If WFI goes by performance, it will not send Sakshi's name because better performers like Deepak Punia and Rahul Aware stand a better chance to get the award as they will compete with brilliant athletes from other disciplines.

Also sending his application to WFI for the Arjuna is Sandeep Tomar, who was a strong candidate in the 57kg before the rise of Ravi Dahiya, the 2019 World Championship bronze medallist.

While application have to be filled by the athletes, it is the national federation which has to recommend names for the sports awards to the ministry.

The athletes can still send their applications if their form is endorsed by their state unit or a former national awardee -- Arjuna, Khel Ratna, Dhyan Chand or or Dronacharya.

The ministry gave a deadline of June 3 to file the nominations.

(With inputs from IANS and PTI)