An unusually large number of sportspersons and coaches -- 74 -- will be conferred India's most prestigious sports awards virtually on Saturday morning by President Ram Nath Kovind, though nine of them would be absent for different reasons, including coronavirus.
The annual ceremony, which is staged at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand's birth anniversary on August 29, attracts a lot of eyeballs due to its tradition. A who's who of Indian sports fraternity and top politicians gather under one roof on this occasion.
Virtual award ceremony a damper for some
However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced extensive measures and the event will take place virtually this time.
The change in the traditional ceremony has taken the glamour away from the ceremony. At least that's what some of the award recipients feel as they went through the dress rehearsal ceremony on Friday.
"Yeah, we will miss the ceremony. Getting an award personally is something different. You can take your family along, click some photos at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Virtual is not such fun," said an athlete, who will receive the Arjuna Award.
Another awardee said the pandemic has 'killed' the excitement. "Personally, I am not liking it. I will get the award but that newspaper front page photos with the President, I will miss it," joked one athlete.
Meanwhile, Vinesh Phogat, who will receive the prestigious Khel Ratna, told IANS that she would 'receive' the award at the NIC Centre in Delhi. "I will go there and attend the ceremony virtually. I am really excited about it," she said.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winner Manika Batra said: "I feel bad about the covid situation and the threat it brings to life all over. Meeting the Hon'ble President is surely someone we athletes dream about meeting," she said.
"But in the current situation I would say being young and hopeful, let's do something more in some tournaments that we all get a chance again to meet him."
Arjuna awardee Divya Kakran said: "I know it will be held virtually and not in Rashtrapati Bhavan. But that is for everybody's safety. The ceremony will start at 10.45 am. So we have to reach in advance and get familiar with all the protocols."
Boxer Manish Kaushik will connect from Pune. "My rehab is on and I will attend the ceremony from here only. This award will motivate me to do well in future events," he said.
The sports ministry had earlier announced Rani Rampal, Vinesh Phogat, Manika Batra, Rohit Sharma and Mariyappan Thangavelu as five Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winners and 27 for the Arjuna Award, the highest ever in the history of the national sports awards.