Khel Ratna for Saina, Chettri gets Arjuna Award

Friday, July 30, 2010

NEW DELHI - Ace Indian shuttler and World no.2 Saina Nehwal will get the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the country’s highest sports award, while Indian footballer Sunil Chettri, currently playing for American club Kansas City Wizards, is among the 15 sportspersons selected for the Arjuna Award.

The award’s committee, headed by legendary athlete P.T. Usha, met here Friday to finalise the winners of this year’s national sports awards.

Saina has been in great form and recently won three back-to-back tournaments, including two Super Series titles. The 20-year-old from Hyderabad won the Indian Open Grand Prix, the Singapore Open and the Indonesian Open.

Earlier this month, she jumped one spot to World No.2, and it came as a major boost for the star shuttler ahead of the World Championships at Paris from Aug 23.

“I am very happy and it is a surprise for me. It has come just before the World Championships. In fact, the last couple of months were great for me. I have done consistently well this year,” said Saina.

“Everything has happened quickly in my career. But it has been tough for me as well. Things will be different now as expectations will be high from me,” she said.

Saina has been made the captain of the Indian team for the World Championships.

Saina, who won the Padma Awards last year, was the first Indian girl to reach the singles quarterfinals at the Olympics in Beijing and the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships.

Footballers got an Arjuna Award after a gap of eight years. Delhi boy Chettri is the third Indian to ply his trade in a foreign football league and also scored a hat-trick in the AFC Challenge Cup final that India won to qualify for the Asia Cup after 24 years. Chettri’s team mate in the national team Dipak Mondal, who plays for Kolkata club Mohun Bagan, will also get the Arjuna Award.

This is the first time, since the inception of Arjuna Awards, that two footballers have been conferred with the prestigious award.

Former India international Mohammad Habib, a member of the award’s selection committee, feels the recognition will boost the game in the country.

“After a long time footballers got this prestigious award. In the last three years the team has done exceptionally well by winning two Nehru Cups and the AFC Challenge Cup. This will surely give confidence to the players,” Habib, an Arjuna Awardee, told IANS.

In cricket, fast bowler Jhulan Goswami, who was adjudged as the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s Player of the Year award in 2007, will also get the Arjuna.

Arjuna Awardees: Krishna Punia (athletics), Joseph Abraham (athletics), Dinesh Kumar (boxing), Parimarjan Negi (chess), Jhulan Goswami (cricket), Deepak Mondal (football), Sunil Chettri (football), Rajiv Tomar (wrestling), Sandeep Singh (hockey), Jasjit Kaur (hockey), Jajseer Singh (paralympics), Dinesh (kabaddi), Kapil Dev (volleyball), Rehan Poncha (swimming), Sanjeev Rajput (shooting)

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