Ace air rifle shooter Anjali Bhagwat slammed the Arjuna Awards committee for nominating athlete K.M. Beenamol for this year's Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award ahead of her, saying its decision showed it was not performance alone which was the criteria for the award.
"I had a wonderful 2002. I was ranked number one in the world and bagged four Commonwealth gold medals, a silver in the World Cup and in the Asian Games. If this performance is not enough then I cannot say (what determines the winner)," Anjali said.
Anjali said she was disappointed initially but now she had realised that winning the Khel Ratna was not her "ultimate goal".
"I have also become used to such disappointments now," said Anjali, who is the only woman shooter to have qualified for the Athens Olympics next year.
"Last year too I was recommended for the Khel Ratna by my association. But the award went to (shooter) Abhinav Bindra who made an individual application.
"They (Bindras) are rich and influential people. No one has the guts to speak against them," the firebrand shooter charged.
Asked if her preparations for the Olympics would be affected by this controversy, Anjali said, "I am not bothered. I do not give importance to petty things".
On reports that the committee had decided to award Beenamol because Anjali could always bag the honour next year, she said, "I don't know. "Shaayad agle saal koi aur Beenamol paida ho jaaye (maybe another Beenamol will crop up next year)."
The Arjuna Awards have been shrouded in controversy ever since the committee, chaired by former footballer P.K. Banerjee, recommended more names for the 2002-03 awards than stipulated and the matter became worse after the list was leaked to the media.
Even as speculation abounded with contradictory reports in newspapers and television channels, the committee reconvened here yesterday to prune the list as per the government guidelines.
The committee, which had orginally shortlisted Anjali alongwith Beenamol for the award, decided to recommend the name of the Asian Games gold medallist for the country's highest sport award after the meeting.
Beenamol was chosen because she was the original choice, was one of the justifications given by a member of the committee.
The middle-distance runner won a gold each in the 800m and 400m relay besides a silver in the 400m at the Busan Asian Games last year.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association of India also said it was "disappointed" with the committee for ignoring the achievements of Anjali.
"The NRAI is disappointed to know that the committee for awards has not recommended the name of Anjali Bhagwat for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. In all fairness, the NRAI feels that Anjali's name should have been recommended for the award," a statement issued by the association said.