Asian Games trials exemption to Phogat, Punia: HC to pronounce order on Saturday

Justice Subramonium Prasad reserved the verdict on the petition by Under-20 World Champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian Champion Sujeet Kalkal against the direct entry handed to Phogat and Punia

Delhi High Court (photo: IANS)
Delhi High Court (photo: IANS)


The Delhi High Court on Friday said it will pass an order on July 22 on a challenge to the exemption granted to top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia from the Asian Games trials.

Justice Subramonium Prasad reserved the verdict on the petition by Under-20 World Champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian Champion Sujeet Kalkal against the direct entry handed to Phogat and Punia.

"The endeavour of the court is not to find who is better. The endeavour is to see whether the procedure has been followed or not," the judge said during the proceedings.

"Heard. Reserved. Pronouncement tomorrow," the court said.

Phogat (53kg) and Punia (65kg) were given direct entries for the Asian Games by the Indian Olympic Association's (IOA) ad-hoc committee on Tuesday while other wrestlers will have to book their places in the Indian squad through selection trials on July 22 and 23.

Panghal and Kalkal challenged the exemption and demanded a fair selection process for the quadrennial showpiece.

The petition, moved by advocates Hrishikesh Baruah and Akshay Kumar, demanded that the directive issued by the IOA ad-hoc committee with regard to the two categories (men's free style 65kg and women's 53kg) be quashed and the exemption granted to Phogat and Punia be set aside.

Baruah assailed the decision on several grounds, including that the general body of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), had withdrawn the provision for exempting sportspersons in August 2022.

The counsel for the ad-hoc panel running the affairs of the WFI, however, said such a decision is "not in the files" and the court asked him to file an affidavit in support of his stand.

The petitioners' lawyer also argued that the exemption was not based on any recommendation by the chief coaches and foreign expert, which is the requirement.

The court, however, observed that it cannot be said that the selection committee was acting against national interest and asked the petitioners if the selection was so "perverse" that it warranted its interference.

"Crux of the matter is that you cannot say that the committee which did the selection is acting against the national interest and that the persons who have been selected are so novice," Justice Prasad said.

"At the end of the day, there is a committee. There are six persons (in the committee). Assuming two are not there, four have said they (selected players) are sufficient. Why should the court interfere in (Article) 226 (proceedings) in a matter of sports wherein a decision has been taken and you can't say decision so unless it so perverse that the decision of the country will be jeopardised," the judge asked.

The ad-hoc panel counsel said the court's jurisdiction to interfere was limited in the present case.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, had on Thursday informed the court that the the selection policy itself provides for an exemption to certain category of players. Advocate Anil Soni also appeared for the central government.

According to WFI guidelines, the selection trials in all weight categories are mandatory. However, the selection committee will have the discretion to select the iconic players such as medallists of Olympic or World Championship without trial provided it has been recommended by the Chief Coach or Foreign Expert.

Olympic bronze medallist Punia is currently training in Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Phogat, who won the 2018 Asian Games gold medal, is training in Budapest, Hungary.

Both of them were at the forefront of the wrestlers' protest at the Jantar Mantar here demanding the arrest of outgoing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for alleged sexual harassment of seven women grapplers.

The two top grapplers, along with the four other protesting wrestlers -- 2016 Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, her husband Satyawart Kadian, Sangeeta Phogat and Jitender Kinha -- had sought time till August 10 to prepare for the Asian Games and World Championships trials.

In the petition, Antim Panghal and Sujeet Kalkal said while they have "been working really hard to clinch their position", Phogat and Punia have not participated in any competition this year and were also not part of the national camp.

They last competed in the Commonwealth Games 2022 and World Championships 2022, said the plea, adding the selection of athletes for an international event without any trial is unfair and discriminatory against other athletes of the same event".

The petition prayed that the trials should be held in a fair manner under the supervision of WFI qualified referees, umpires and officials, and the whole process should be videographed.

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