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The Khel Ratna Award

The Khel Ratna Award Logo

The Khel Ratna Award, or Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, is India's highest honour an Indian athlete can hope to receive. This award was originally named after the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. However, the Indian government renamed it after Major Dhyan Chand a few years ago.

Dhyan Chand was one of the greatest athletes India has produced. As a hockey player, he helped India win several gold medals in the Olympic Games. Dhyan Chand scored more than 1,000 goals in his 20-year hockey career.

There can be several recipients for this award in a year. All awardees are chosen by a committee formed by the Indian government. Every Khel Ratna Award comprises a medal, citation and prize of INR 25,00,000.

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Khel Ratna Award background

Khel Ratna was instituted by the Indian government in 1991. Initially, this award was given for performances delivered in the previous year. After the BJP government assumed power in 2014, the Khel Ratna was renamed, and the parameters for this award also changed. Now, every athlete who delivers outstanding performance during the previous four years can be considered for this honour.

The following events are considered for the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.:

  • Olympics
  • Paralympics
  • Asian Games
  • Commonwealth Games

A 12-member committee evaluates each candidate for this award. Once the final list is ready, the committee sends it to the Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs for a final decision.

The first recipient

Chess Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand was the first recipient of the Khel Ratna Award (1991-1992). Anand is a legend in the world of chess, and has won several major international titles in this game.

Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra became the youngest recipient of this prestigious award in 2001. Bindra won the Gold for Shooting in the 2000 Olympics.

Usually, this award is given to only one athlete in a year. However, exceptions were made in 1993-1994, 2002, 2009, 2012 and 2016-2021.

So far, 57 athletes have received the Khel Ratna in the following disciplines:

  • Athletics
  • Badminton
  • Billiards
  • Boxing
  • Chess
  • Cricket
  • Field Hockey
  • Gymnastics
  • Para Athletics/Badminton/ Shooting
  • Snooker
  • Table Tennis
  • Tennis
  • Wrestling
  • Weightlifting
  • Yacht Racing

Selection process and Nominations

Though we have briefly touched on this topic earlier, we will delve into it in greater deal here.

The Sports Authority of India and the National Anti Doping Agency must first clear the names of all the nominees. Any athlete who has tested positive for controlled substances is automatically disqualified from the selection process. The preliminary selection committee includes officials from the Sports Ministry, the SAI and the NADA.

In the next stage, all valid names are examined by another committee which has government officials, sports administrators, experts, and previous winners of the Khel Ratna. Every nominee receives marks on the basis of the profile of the competition in which they have won an award. For example, an athlete who has won an Olympic Gold gets 80 points. An Olympic Silver Medalist would get 70 marks, and so on.

In the final stage, the Sports Minister approves the names of athletes selected by the committee.

Over the years, several world champions have received the Major Hyan Chand Khel Award.

Khel Ratna Winners

The following list has the names of Khel Ratna and their respective sports.

  • Geet Sethi won the second Khel Ratna for billiards in 1992-1993.
  • Pushpendra Garg and Homi Motivala received this award for Yachting, 1993-1994
  • Karnam Malleswari, noted Weightlifting champion, won Khel Ratna in 1995
  • The next year, N. Kunjarani won it for weightlifting.
  • In 1997, Leander Paes won Khel Ratna for Lawn Tennis.
  • 1998 was the year when Sachin Tendulkar, cricket legend, won this award.
  • Jyotirmoyee Sikdar- Athletics, 1999
  • Dhanraj Pillay, former captain of Indian hockey team won Khel Ratna in 2000.
  • Pullela Gopichand and Abhinav Bindra won this award for Badminton and Shooting , respectively in 2001.
  • K.M. Beenamol and Anjali Bhagwat from Athletics and Shooting, respectively were the winners in 2002.
  • Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, an Olympics Silver Medalist, received this award for Shooting in 2004
  • Pankaj Advani received Khel Ratna in the Billiards and Snooker category, 2005
  • Mahendra Singh Dhoni, former Indian cricket captain, received Khel Ratna in 2007.
  • Mary Kom (won many world titles) and Vijender Singh (Olympics champion) - Boxing, 2009.
  • Susheel Kumar, former wrestling champion won Khel Ratna in,2009.
  • Saina Nehwal won it in the Badminton category for 2011
  • Gagan Narang- Shooting, 2012
  • Vijay Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt won this award for Shooting and Wrestling, respectively, 2012
  • P.V. Sindhu-Badminton, 2016
  • Neeraj Chopra, Tokyo Olympics Champion, received Khel Ratna for Athletics in 2021

Please note this list is partial.


Thanks to the performance of India in the last two Olympics, this award has started attracting the attention of millions of Indians. Sports has never been a favourite pastime of Indians, but Khel Ratna has rekindled the interest of people in physical exercise and competitive sports.

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Gian Chacko

Sports enthusiast with love for cricket, football and sports in general. Holds 10+ years of following and writing about sports and lately also betting.