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Sidelined, shooter Anjali Bhagwat slams Arjuna award selection

Abhaya Srivastava (Press Trust of India)

Posted: Aug 10, 2003 at 1848 hrs IST

Ace air rifle shooter Anjali Bhagwat on Sunday slammed the Arjuna awards committee for nominating athlete K.M. Beenamol for this year's Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award ahead of her, saying its decision showed it was not performance alone which is the criteria for the award.

"I had a wonderful 2002. I was ranked number one in the world and bagged four commonwealth gold medals, a silver in the World Cup and in the Asian games. If this performance is not enough then I cannot say (what determines the winner)," Anjali said.

Anjali said she was disappointed initially but now she had realised that winning the Khel Ratna was not her "ultimate goal".

"I have also become used to such disappointments now," said Anjali, who is the only woman shooter to have qualified for the Athens Olympics next year.

"Last year too I was recommended for the Khel Ratna by my association. But the award went to (shooter) Abhinav Bindra who made an individual application.”

"They (Bindras) are rich and influential people. No one has the guts to speak against them," the firebrand shooter charged.

Asked if her preparations for Olympics will be affected by this controversy, Anjali said, "I am not bothered. I do not give importance to petty things".

On reports that the committee had decided to award Beenamol because Anjali could always bag the honour next year, she said, "I don’t know. Shayad agle saal koi aur beenamol paida ho jaaye (maybe another Beenamol will crop up next year)."

The Arjuna awards have been shrouded in controversy ever since the committee, chaired by former footballer P.K. Banerjee, recommended more names for the 2002-03 awards than stipulated and the matter became worse after the list was leaked to the media.

Even as speculation abounded with contradictory reports in the papers and television channels, the committee reconvened in Delhi on Saturday to prune the list as per the government guidelines.

After a marathon discussion the committee decided to nominate Beenamol for the country's highest sports award though there was no official word on it. Beenamol was chosen because she was the original choice, was one of the justifications given by a member of a committee.

The middle-distance runner won a gold each in 800m and400m relay besides a silver in 400m In the Busan Asian games last year.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association of India also said it was "disappointed" with the committee for ignoring the achievements of Anjali while making its nomination for the Khel Ratna.

"The NRAI is disappointed to know that the committee for awards has not recommended the name of Anjali Bhagwat for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. In all fairness, NRAI feels that Anjali's name should have been recommended for the award," an NRAI statement said.

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