Sportspersons belong in stadiums and not court corridors, and those who aim to bring laurels to the country should not be subjected to mental agony by sports federations, the Delhi High Court has said while expressing its displeasure over the process of selection of equestrians to represent India in the upcoming Asian Games.
Justice Gaurang Kanth, while dealing with petitions by three equestrians, observed he was “deeply saddened by the sorry state of affairs and the deplorable condition of professionalism amongst the representatives of the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI)” and the present case seemed to be a “David and Goliath contest, where an organization is using all its might to eliminate certain individual from the competition”.
The grievances raised in the petitions by Chirag Khandal, Shashank Singh Kataria and Yash Nensee pertained to certain changes introduced by the federation in the selection criteria for the 19th Asian Games, scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China in September-October.
Ruling that the selection norms cannot be altered after commencement of the selection process, the court asserted all equestrians should “undergo rigorous practice rather than wasting their precious time” before it and permitted all those who participated in the selection process in terms of the old as well as the updated criteria to attend the coaching camps and participate further in the final selection process.
National Sports Federation like the EFI should foster and identify best talent and not get muddled by hyper-technicality and personal vendettas, said the court.
“No one who aims to bring laurels to their motherland should be subjected to mental agony by the federations and its officials. Bearing in mind the lower position of India in the medal tally in the last-held 18th Asiad, our whole endeavour should be towards providing our athletes with a supportive ecosystem wherein their attention is only on improving their performance and achieving top spots in tournaments,” said the court in its order passed on March 7.
The court emphasised that athletes are our national assets and added, “a National Sports Federation like the EFI should prioritize identifying and fostering the best talent in the country, without being muddled by hyper-technicality and personal vendettas against any candidate. A sportsperson belongs to the field and stadium, not to the corridors of the Courts.”
The court noted it is the duty of the National Sports Federations to ensure that the selection process is conducted in a fair and transparent manner and is made known to all stakeholders well in advance but in this case, there was “laxity” in selection of Indian team and “glaring irregularities in the functioning of the EFI”.
“EFI changed the rule of the qualifications while the selection process is ongoing and hence denied equal opportunity to all the aspirants of 19th Asian games…This Court is of the prima facie opinion that EFI succeeded in their vicious approach to eliminate the best candidates by acting in a completely capricious and arbitrary manner while discharging its responsibilities,” observed the court.
“Despite the presence of precautionary provisions, element of biasness and conflict of interest remains a major challenge in running of National Federation in Indian sports as can be seen in the present matter. The Vice President (Finance) of EFI, despite having a major vested interest in the selection process failed to disclose this fact before the Federation or before this Court for that matter. He does not only continue to be a prominent part of the body, but has been proactively involved in formulating the selection criteria and moulding course of trials and selection of modus operandi,” it added.
The court also said the selection criteria which was introduced later was formulated without the presence of requisite quorum in selection committee and was thus void ab initio in the eyes of law.
“It is the dream of every Indian citizen to hear our National Anthem being played when one of our athletes stand on the podium. It is a proud moment for every Indian citizen to see our Athletes with Tricolour in their hand. The country recognises the years of hard work and dedication put by each Athlete to reach at that stage. The role of National Federations is to ease the difficulties faced by the Athletes and extend the necessary help to them to enable them to better their performances,” stated the court.
“Any dilution to this (selection) process will not only shatter the dreams of these athletes, but every citizen of this country. This Court, at this stage, can only wish all the very best to each of the contestants and requests the EFI to select the best team to represent the country so that they can fulfil the dreams of every Indian citizen,” it said.