The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna is the highest sporting honor bestowed by the Government of India. It is awarded every year on the occasion of National Sports Day, the 29th of August, by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The athletes are awarded for their "spectacular and most outstanding performance in the field of sports in the last four years" at the international level.
Vishwanathan Anand was the first recipient of the Khel Ratna in the year 1992 for his outstanding accomplishments in the game of chess. 38 sportspersons have been bestowed with this award to date with the highest number of 8 awardees being from the sport of shooting.
Bajrang Punia (wrestling) and Deepa Malik (para-athletics) were the latest winners of the Khel Ratna, having received the recognition in 2019.
Let us have a look at some deserving sportspersons who could be recommended for the Khel Ratna this year.
Vinesh Phogat - Wrestling
Vinesh Phogat is currently the flag-bearer of women's wrestling in India. She is the only female Indian wrestler to have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 to date. Although the Olympics have been postponed to 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has already confirmed that the athletes who have already qualified for the Games would be participating in the deferred games as well.
Vinesh has been a consistent performer over the last few years. Her list of accomplishments includes winning a bronze medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships and a gold medal each at the 2018 Asian Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games. This followed on the heels of gold and bronze medal-winning efforts at the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games respectively. She also has a total of 7 medals (3 silver and 4 bronze) from the Asian Wrestling Championships in her kitty.
After the disappointment of the Rio Olympics, where she missed out on a medal due to a horrific injury, she will be keen to redeem herself with a medal in Tokyo. Having been awarded the Arjuna award in 2016, she will be one of the frontrunners for the Khel Ratna this year and will hoping to become the 5th Indian wrestler to win this prestigious award.
Koneru Humpy - Chess
Koneru Humpy is the undisputed queen of Indian chess. She has a long list of achievements but the biggest one came in 2019 when she won the World Rapid Chess title. This win was even more incredible as she was coming back after a two-year hiatus from the game of chess.
In 2002, Humpy had become the youngest woman ever to receive the Grandmaster title, doing so at the age of 15 years, 1 month and 27 days although this record was subsequently broken. In October 2007, she had become just the second female chess player to exceed the 2600 ELO rating mark with an ELO rating of 2606.
She has had an exemplary last year since her return to the 64 squares. The Indian star won the first event of the Grand Prix series in Skolkovo and got 2nd place at the second stage in Monaco before going on to become the Women's World Rapid Chess Champion. She continued this great run by claiming first place at the Cairns Cup, a nine-round classical event featuring 10 of the top women's chess players.
This great form has helped her climb up the International Chess Federation (FIDE) women's chess rankings where she currently holds the 2nd spot. Having been awarded the Arjuna award way back in 2003, she will be one of the major contenders for the Khel Ratna this year, thereby hoping to become just the 2nd Indian chess player after Anand to win this prestigious award.
Achanta Sharath Kamal - Table Tennis
Sharath Kamal has been the torchbearer of Indian table tennis in the last two decades. Sharath, who has been representing India at the Olympic Games since 2004, is hopeful of representing India at the Tokyo Olympics, the qualifiers of which have been postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Sharath has an enviable list of achievements to his credit. He has bagged 8 medals at the Commonwealth Games, including 4 medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Games. But his biggest achievement was winning an unprecedented 2 bronze medals at the 2018 Asian Games, with the level of competition considered as good as the World level.
He won the 2020 Oman Open title and was hopeful of carrying this form to the Olympic qualification event, which has unfortunately been postponed. Having been awarded the Arjuna award way back in 2004, he would hope to be considered for the Khel Ratna this year, thereby becoming the first-ever Indian paddler to win this prestigious award.
Rohit Sharma - Cricket
Rohit Sharma has been the most consistent Indian batsman over the last year across all three formats. Rohit, who was always considered an exceptional player in the limited-overs format, has almost cemented his place in the Indian Test line-up with his consistent performances at the top of the order.
Rohit had an outstanding World Cup 2019 where he finished as the highest run-scorer with 648 runs to his credit including 5 centuries and almost single-handedly took India to the semi-finals. He carried this form into Tests, where he made the most of the opportunity to bat at the top of the order accumulating 556 runs in just 6 innings including 3 centuries with the highest score of 212.
Considering his consistent performances for the Indian cricket team over the last few years and especially in the last year, he could be recommended for the Khel Ratna this year. Having already been awarded the Arjuna award in 2015, he would hope to become the 4th Indian cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Virat Kohli to win the prestigious Khel Ratna.
Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa - Squash
Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa have been performing admirably in the international circuit. The duo, along with Dipika Pallikal Karthik, has been primarily responsible for the growth of squash as a sport in India.
Although squash is not a part of the Olympic Games, Indian squash players have been dishing up outstanding performances at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and other international tour events.
Saurav has bagged 7 medals at the Asian Games including a gold medal in the men's team event at the 2014 Asian Games apart from a silver medal in the mixed doubles event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The icing on the cake was the gold medal he won at the 2019 Asian Individual Squash Championships.
Joshna, on the other hand, has bagged 4 medals at the Asian Games, apart from 2 medals at the Commonwealth Games including a gold in the women's doubles event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She has also bagged a gold medal in both the 2017 and 2019 Asian Individual Squash Championships.
While Saurav was a recipient of the Arjuna award way back in 2006, Joshna was awarded the Arjuna in 2013. If either of them is bestowed with the Khel Ratna this year, they would become the first squash player to receive the prestigious award.