Government of India, India, Padma Awards, Sports, Stories

Beyond Cricket: Increased diversity in Padma Awards to Sportspersons in the last two decades


India’s obsession with Cricket is well known. This was also reflected in the civilian awards (Padma awards) given by the government. However, in the last two decades, there is an increased diversity in the recipients from sports while cricketers still get the most awards. 

The Indian Government honours and recognizes the contributions of the citizens in various fields by conferring civilian awards, popularly known as the ‘Padma’ awards.  Every year, these awards are announced on the eve of Republic Day. The awards are presented by the President in ceremonial functions held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The highest of these civilian awards is the Bharat Ratna followed by the various Padma awards which are given in three categories- Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service), Padma Bhushan (distinguished service of higher-order), and Padma Shri (distinguished service). Factly had earlier published a story on Bharat Ratna and Padma Awards. 

About 5% of the Padma awards have been conferred on Sportspersons

The civilian awards are conferred to those persons who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields such as Art, Literature, Education, Social Work, Science, Public Affairs, Medicine, Sports, Engineering, Agriculture, or any other field. From the time the Padma awards were instituted in 1954, a total of 4,875 awards have been conferred till date including 2021. The majority of these awards, about 22% went to those in the field of Art. More than 64% of the awards conferred went to persons from four fields- art, literature and education, medicine, and science and engineering. With 249 of these awards, sportspersons constituted 5% of all the awardees. 

80% of the Padma Awards in sports went to those from 10 sports

More than 64% of the total Padma awards in sports went to those from the four disciplines of cricket (57), mountaineering (36), hockey (27), and athletics (26). Badminton and Tennis players received 11 awards each. Players in 10 sports- cricket, mountaineering, hockey, athletics, badminton, tennis, wrestling, boxing, chess, and football alone received 80% of all the civilian awards to sportspersons. 

Cricket dominates the overall number of Padma awards to sportspersons

Of the total 249 civilian awards conferred on sportspersons, 213 were the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan (31), and Padma Vibhushan (4). Only one sportsperson (Sachin Tendulkar) has been conferred the Bharat Ratna. Nearly 23% of all the Padma Awards were conferred on cricketers (57). Cricketers received 44 Padma Shri, 11 Padma Bhushan, and 1 Padma Vibhushan. Cricket is the only sport that has recipients in all four categories including the Bharat Ratna. Cricket also dominates in each of the Padma award categories in terms of a number of awards. However, in 2021, no cricketer was given any Padma award.  

Diversity in sports being recognized has increased over the years

When we analyse the trend in awards being conferred on sportspersons since the inception of Padma Awards, interesting trends emerge. For the purpose of this analysis, the 60 odd years from 1954 have been divided into six periods- Up to 1970, 1971-1980, 1981-1990, 1991-2000, 2001-2010, and 2011-2021. 

A decadal trend in the number of awards being conferred on sportspersons reveals that the diversity in sports in terms of the number of awards has been on the rise lately. Between 1954 and 1970, sportspersons from 8 different sports were recipients of these awards. This increased to 15 between 1981-1990, and 19 in 2001-2010. Since 2011, sportspersons from 24 different sports have been recognized with these awards. The decade 1991- 2000 had awardees only from few sports because civilian awards were not given for four years between 1993-1996. 

Awards have been conferred to sportspersons from 35 different sports so far. Sportspersons from 14 sports such as aviation, physical education, Yoga, sailing, and gymnastics have been conferred the award only once to date.   

The number of awards given to sportspersons in each period is given in the following table. On average, 5% of the awards went to sportspersons over these years with slight variations in certain decades.

Proportion of awards to Cricketers has decreased

The decadal trend for awards presented in each of the sports reveals the following. 

  • Up to 1970, mountaineering had received the greatest number of awards (about 16 out of the total 45 given to sportspersons). Since then, cricket has dominated in each decade. 
  • Though cricketers continue to receive the most awards to sportspersons, the proportion of awards to cricketers among those for sportspersons has decreased over the years. Cricketers constituted above 20% of the awardees until 2010. Between 1970-80, more than 40% of the Padma awardees in sports went to cricketers. This has however dropped below 20% for 2011-2021with only about 17% of the awards to sportspersons going to cricketers.
  • Awards for mountaineering have decreased since 1971. However, there has been a slight increase in the last decade. The majority of the awardees here are from the north-eastern states. 
  • The number of awards to hockey players is more or less the same across with an average of five awards in each of these periods. 
  • Awards to sportspersons in athletics, wrestling, badminton, shooting, boxing, and tennis have seen an increase in the last few decades. This may be attributed to India’s improved performance in these sports on the international stage such as the Olympics and world championships in these sports. India has won medals in the Olympics in each of these sports.

20 sportspersons have received Padma awards more than once, and six are cricketers

In all, sportspersons have been conferred with 249 Padma awards of which 43 went to 20 persons. The following table lists out the twenty sportspersons who received multiple Padma awards along with the awards they received including the Bharat Ratna. Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri have been abbreviated as BR, PV, PB, and PS, respectively in the table below. 

It can be seen that out of the 20 sportspersons, six of them are cricketers. These six cricketers have received 13 awards in total. Only Sachin Tendulkar has received Padma awards thrice while the remaining five received 2 awards each. Sportspersons from other sports such as badminton, tennis, and boxing have also made their way to this list in recent years. 

More women and different sports are being encouraged in the last decade or so

India’s obsession with cricket is also reflected in the Padma awards. However, in recent years, sportspersons from other sports are increasingly among the awardees which is indeed a positive sign. It is also seen that more women are being honoured compared to the earlier years. 

Sportspersons represent India in the international arena and hence, honouring and recognizing them is important. Not only will it encourage the sportsperson to perform better but also helps in improving the popularity of the sport among people. The diversity in these awards and India’s success in multiple sports beyond cricket may be here to stay. 


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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