Has the Arjuna Award committee ignored Squash champ Dipika Pallikal?
Nomination of Pallikal, India No.1 and world No.15, for the Award runs into rough weather
In a cricket crazy country obsessed with bestowing a Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar, the spotlight is slowly being thrown on a male chauvinistic mindset in Indian sport. Recently, Sania Mirza took pot shots at the tennis association for using her as "bait" in pairing players for the upcoming Olympics. Joining the chorus is India No.1 and World No.15 squash champion Dipika Pallikal, whose nomination for the Arjuna award seems to have run into rough weather.
The Squash Federation, which, like all other sports bodies, got the Arjuna award nomination forms in January this year, chose not to nominate Dipika, although she has broken into the top 15 in the world. Incidentally, the federation had nominated a male player - Saurav Goshal for this award in 2007, although he was not among the top 20 then and is still aiming for a place in the top 15 league.
"Sport has always been male dominated in our country,” says a disappointed Dipika. What seems to rankle most is that she has been in great form. In May this year, Dipika won the gold at the Asian Seniors beating World No.6 Anne Au of Hong Kong. Three months earlier, she bagged the silver at the World Cup in Chennai. Towards the end of last year, her winning streak with the Orange County WISPA in Los Angeles in September, the Washington Open in October and the Crocodile Cup in Hong Kong in December, was too obvious to be missed. "The Arjuna Award is a recognition of hard work and merit. If there is a time that I deserve it, it is now", adds the 20-year-old who spurned lucrative film offers to focus on her sport.
Dipika's mother Susan Pallikal, a former all rounder in the Indian women's cricket team, who functions as her manager, has been struggling to get her nomination in place. When the Squash Federation didn't forward Dipika's name, Susan knocked at the door of the Sports Development Authority Of Tamil Nadu (SDAT). Unfortunately, the processing pace was so slow there that the 30 April deadline lapsed. TEHELKA has a copy of a letter dated 31 May, written by the Member Secretary of SDAT M.Vijayakumar, to the Union Sports Secretary, in which the IAS official admits that "due to administrative delay the applications were sent late to the Government Of India through the Government Of Tamil Nadu." The letter goes on to say that "the delay is not on the part of the applicants." (Tamil Nadu athlete Renjith Maheshwari is the other nominee).
Officials in the Squash Federation have been evasive, and Susan Pallikal has petitioned Sports Minister Ajay Maken. The Sports Ministry has now extended the deadline for nominations to the 20July. The move is being seen as an attempt to accommodate the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI); a charge the Ministry denies.
As the wait continues, Dipika says she prefers to let her medals do the talking. However, she feels that an Arjuna Award for a squash player at this stage can "brighten the game's chances of being included in the Olympics in 2020".