New Delhi, Jan 16: Legendary sprinter Milkha Singh today criticised boxer Sarita Devi for refusing to accept the bronze medal during the Asian Games victory ceremony last year, saying that her act had brought bad name to the country.
Milkha, who missed a bronze medal by a whisker in the 400m race in 1960 Rome Olympics, said that athletes should uphold the country's reputation at all cost.
"Her (Sarita) act brought bad name to the country and she should not have done like that. She might have been hurt (by the decision of the judges) but she should not have refused to accept the medal at the victory podium," he told reporters at an athletics grassroot initiative organised by natural gas major Gas Authority of India Limited here.
"It was not proper on her part to protest in that way. There were coaches and officials to lodge the protest. The most important thing for an athlete is not to bring bad name to the country," the 86-year-old 'Flying Sikh' said.
Sarita had got the backing of the government and other sportspersons who had pleaded with International Boxing Association (AIBA) to take a lenient view of her protest, but Milkha disapproved of the Manipuri pugilist's act.
Sarita had refused to wear her bronze medal at the victory ceremony after her semifinal loss to South Korea's Ji Na Park at the Incheon Asian Games in October last, triggering a huge controversy.
She was later handed a one-year ban by the AIBA. The legendary runner also disapproved of Saina Nehwal's statement that she was a deserving candidate for the ceveted civilian award, Padma Bhushan.
"We (athletes) should not hanker after government honours. Our job is to perform and get medals and laurels for the country. It is the job of the government to recognise your achievements and service to the country and confer you awards and honours," he said.
"I was awarded the Padma Shree in 1958 and later (in 2001) the government recommended me for Arjuna Award which I refused to accept. I was not considered for the Arjuna Award for so long and why would I accept it after getting the Padma Shree," he added.
''I would urge the government to confer Bharat Ratna to Dhyan Chand'
Milkha also said that Dhyan Chand should be conferred the country's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
"It was good that Sachin Tendulkar was given the Bharat Ratna because it opened the door for sportsman to get the prestigious award. But I felt Dhyan Chand should have been the first sportsman to get Bharat Ratna," he said.
"As far as I remember, Dhyan Chand's case for the award began in 2010 but he has not git the Bharat Ratna till today. I don't know the reason, you have to ask the government. On my part, I would urge the government to confer Bharat Ratna to Dhyan Chand," he added.
Meanwhile, six young school children in the age-group of 12-14 will get free education and full-time training at a residential academy under the 'GAIL - The Fastest Indian' initiative, a talent hunt programme with an aim to identify potential Olympic medal winners in athletics.
Fifty boys and girls were chosen after a three month long talent hunt programme in 19 cities out of 5000 school children and they took part in the grand finale in 100m, 200m and 400m (both boys and girls) and the six winners will get full time training at the Ashwini Nachappa Sports Foundation at Coorg in arnataka.
GAIL officials said that these six boys and girls will b given free education and they will be given scholarship to pursue Master in Business Administration at the IFIM Business School in Bangalore.
Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas (Independent Charge) Dharmendra Pradhan, who flagged off the grand finale at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex here along with Milkha, said the programme will be an annual affair and more school children will be added to get free education and full time training each year.