Farman Basha is not a household name. Born in Bangalore, he was affected by polio at a very young age which left him crippled. Since then, Basha has not been able to walk. But he did not let his disability come in between him and his dreams.
When this Arjuna Award-winning athlete represented India for the fourth time at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, he failed to lift 155kg in his third attempt which meant the 42-year-old missed a medal for the third consecutive time by a whisker.
Powerlifting is a bench press competition, where the athletes lie flat on a specially designed bench and then aim to lower a horizontally weighted bar from arms length, to the chest and return the bar under control to the same starting position.
Athletes may make three lifts during the competition and must increase the weight attempted by at least 1kg following a successful lift. After successfully lifting 140kg in the first attempt, he could not lift 150kg and 155kg in his second and third attempt.
"My best is 160kg which I was lifting back home. But after coming to Rio, I could not do more than 152kg. Not even one day. It has something to do with the weather and also journey till here was tiring," said a disappointed Basha over the phone on the day of his event.
He was not happy with the decision of the referee during his second lift of 150 kg. "Sometimes the referee make mistakes too and maybe that was the case. It was clean according to me. But I had no one with me to protest the decision," added Basha. Le van Cong of Vietnam won the gold medal in the 49-kg category after lifting 181 kg, which was a new world record.
Four years back, he came fifth in his event after managing a best of 150kg, 5kg short of 4th-placed Eay Simay from Lao People's Democratic Republic and 10kg short of bronze medal winner Taha Abdelmagid.
Basha finished just outside the top 3 at the Beijing Games too but has been the country's top para-lifter for 16 years now. In fact, such has been his prowess in the sport that Farman has won medals even at competitions meant for able-bodied athletes.
Where is my recognition?
Thirty-two athletes across various sporting disciplines have received the Khel Ratna so far. While the number of awardees has gone-up this year to four, there are some who've been in the queue for long and have missed out again.
Farman Basha thinks he is one of them. Questioning the parameters for the prestigious award, he says, "Khel Ratna was awarded to Dipa Karmakar, who was placed 4th in her first Olympics. I have also secured the 4th place at the Paralympics and this is the fourth time I've represented India at the Games."
"In the previous two Paralympics, I have finished in the top five. My event being a power game, placing 4th is also not less than winning a medal. If you look at the difference with the medal winners, you will see all both the places had a very small and narrow margin." .
He is proud of his achievements and why not. "To keep me at the world ranking 4th continuously is not an easy task, even the able-bodied lifter also can't break my records. This is indeed a great achievement. By seeing all these qualities, I am wondering why no Khel Ratna for me," he added.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award was instituted by the Government of India in 1991-92 for the most spectacular and outstanding performance in the field of sports by a sports person in a year. Only one award in given under the scheme. The award carries a statuette, citation and cash prize of Rs.7.5 lakh each.
The first recipient of the award was Viswanathan Anand, who was honoured for the performance in the year 1991–92. Usually conferred upon only one sportsperson in a year, a few exceptions have been made (1993–94, 2002, 2009, 2012, and 2016) when multiple recipients were awarded in a year. There is a policy by the government which states that, "If anyone wins a medal during an Olympic year, he will be automatically conferred with the Khel Ratna award." In the past, medal winners at various Paralympics have been conferred with other awards like Arujna Award, but not the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
The main eligibility criteria is as follows –
“The spectacular and most outstanding performance in the field of sports by a sportsperson over a period of four years immediately preceding the year during which award is to be given shall be honoured with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award for excellence in Sports & Games at international level i.e. Olympic/Asian/ Commonwealth/World Games/Championships/World Cup and equivalent recognized international tournaments”
The Indian athletes have so far won four medals - two gold, one silver and one bronze at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. It remains to be seen whether any of the medal winners receive the Khel Ratna which they deserve, but the 42-year-old believes a deviation needs to take place in the policy and the decision makers should take a swift action.