Why has the government been overlooking 2013 World Snooker Champion Vidya Pillai for an Arjuna award?
Earlier this week, top sportspersons from around the country were commemorated with the Arjuna Award for their achievements in the world of sport. Tennis sensation Sania Mirza was also bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, the highest honour for an athlete in the country. However, the omission of certain names from the recipient list has left sections of the sporting fraternity flabbergasted.
One such name is Vidya Pillai. The 2013 World Women's Snooker Champion has seen her candidature rejected three times in a row, despite her shining efforts at the international level. Pillai might not be a household name in India, but her exploits have put Indian women's cue sports on the world map.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, she said, "It's heartbreaking to see that the Ministry/selection committee isn't willing to recognise my efforts. It's not me who applied for the Arjuna Award candidacy, I was selected by the National Federation and my exclusion for the third time indicates an extreme lack of interest towards cue sports in the country."
Hardly any acknowledgement from Sports Ministry: Pillai
Till date, Snooker and Billiards have garnered India the highest number of World Championship victories, with the number almost touching 30. The man who earned India 13 of those, Pankaj Advani, has come out in full support of Pillai. Advani also hit out at the government stating that Pillai's omission had no grounds, and she was ahead of a lot of people selected in terms of caliber.
Pillai added, "We don't even get paid properly by the Central government, yes the Karnataka Billiards Association has been doing a lot for us, but when it comes to acknowledgement, there is hardly any from the Sports Ministry."
The 37-year old has earned the nickname 'Queen of the Green' thanks to her performances across various editions of the IBSF World Snooker Championship. She added, "We work as hard as any of the other sportspersons and we don't even expect to get paid as much. However, we also represent the national tri-colour and tears do roll down our eyes when the national anthem is playing, during a foreign platform."
"With all due respect to several candidates, there is a points ranking system on which someone is given the Arjuna Award. I am certain that my achievements are as good as others on the list, if not better."
The Bangalore-based cueist was one of the first Indian women to regularly participate on the international stage. After winning her first National Championship in 2003 at Jammu, she cemented her position as one of the top contenders on the domestic circuit. Subsequent to her National Championship medals, her efforts eventually culminated in her first international medal (bronze) at the 2008 World Billiards Championship in England.
Cue stick will do my talking: Pillai
The year 2010 would be revolutionary for both Pillai and Indian women's snooker as she went on to win gold at the Indian nationals, gold at the Australian Open and a bronze at the IBSF World Championship. The next few years would see Pillai consistently winning medals for India every year, before eventually winning World Championship Gold in 2013.
She said, "It's extremely important that we start educating people about the positive results of Cue sports so far. Yes, slowly people are showing an interest towards 'other sports,' but we need to do more to popularise the sport."
This is not the first time a sportsperson has expressed disappointment over an Arjuna Award Committee ruling. Last year, pugilist Manoj Kumar took the Sports Ministry to court after being snubbed of the Arjuna Award. Kumar had won a gold medal in the light welterweight category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games; and received his due credit only after winning the case in the Supreme Court.
The Sports Ministry was forced to hand Kumar an Arjuna Award albeit in an unceremonious manner. However, Pillai has no plans of dragging the Ministry to court. She said, "I will continue to do what I do best and that is represent my country in Snooker. Hopefully my cue stick will do the talking."