New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind presented the National Sports Awards 2021 at an event at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Saturday. Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, veteran woman cricketer Mithali Raj and history-making Paralympic stars received the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna, which was among the first awards handed out in the evening. In a glittering function organised at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President recognised the country’s unparalleled Olympic and Paralympic performances.
The event became an in-person affair this time after going online the previous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur was present at the ceremony along with a host of other dignitaries, including his predecessor Kiren Rijiju.
The star attraction of the evening was Chopra, who received his Khel Ratna award amid thunderous applause from the select dignitaries present at the specially organised function. Chopra was the first among the Khel Ratna awardees to receive the honour.
Besides the 23-year-old star, other recipients of the Khel Ratna recognition, were Olympic bronze-winning Indian men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh, veteran goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, Olympic silver-medallist wrestler Ravi Dahiya, Olympic bronze-winning boxer Lovlina Borgohain and Mithali.
Sunil Chhetri became the first footballer to be bestowed the award, a well-deserved recognition for keeping pace with the likes of Lionel Messi in scoring international goals.
Suhash Yathiraj (Para Badminton), a Computer Engineering graduate from NIT, Suratkal, Karnataka, who is currently posted as the District Magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, who won a silver medal at Tokyo Paralympics and cricketer Shikhar Dhawan were among the Arjuna awardees.
Along with 12 Khel Ratnas, India this year has 35 Arjuna awardees. The long list this year was a result of the historic medal hauls at the Olympics (7) and Paralympics (19).
The event is traditionally held on August 29 every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand.
The Khel Ratna award carries a cash prize purse of Rs 25 lakh, a medal and a scroll of honour.
The Arjuna award carries a prize money of Rs 15 lakh, a bronze statue and a scroll of honour.