‘Athletes’ job is to train, not fight court cases’: High jumper Tejaswin relieved after CWG inclusion

India’s leading high jumper Tejaswin Shankar has hardly got any sleep in the last few weeks. Ever since taking the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to court over his exclusion from the 2022 Commonwealth Games squad despite achieving the qualification mark, the 23-year-old had been anxiously awaiting the verdict.

The Delhi athlete’s nerves finally eased when the AFI told the Delhi High court on Wednesday that he would be included in the 36-member squad in place of quarter-miler Arokia Rajiv, who had failed a fitness test.

Tejaswin is the only Indian to have achieved the 2.27m qualification mark but was left out of the squad for failing to take part in the Inter-State Meet in Chennai which clashed with the NCAA championships in the United States.

“I hardly got any sleep with so much happening around. How do you motivate yourself to train when you are not sure about your next competition? My practice has also been affected. It’s not good for the sport that athletes have to go to court for spots they have earned. I am thankful to AFI that they have finally agreed to include me in the squad. I will have a good night’s sleep today,” Shankar told this paper after Wednesday’s hearing.

“The court is still hearing the case so let’s hope the outcome benefits other athletes. Athletes’ work is to train and compete, not fight court cases.”

Flak in court

The court last month had directed the AFI to not exclude Tejaswin based on his absence at the inter-state event and to consider him for the squad. “Let not this be an ego issue,” the court had said. The federation got back saying they would be happy to include Tejaswin and five others who have also met the qualification mark if the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) increases the quota. “We have written to the IOA already,” the AFI counsel had told the court.

Tejaswin Shankar. (File)

On Tuesday, Justice Yashwant Varma, came down heavily on AFI slamming them for their “arbitrary” selection for CWG and asking them to “revisit the issues”. The court observed that a few athletes had been included in the squad despite not achieving the qualifying mark this season. “I will be forced to pass it as part of the court order that everyone who has not qualified should be removed, and you include all these five additional names that have,” Justice Varma had sternly warned the AFI. The federation told the court on Wednesday that they could manage only one spot and would accommodate Tejaswin. The court proceedings not only troubled Tejawin, who trains in the US but also his mother Lakshmi Shankar. She had initiated the legal process in Delhi and Tejaswin would stay up late at night due to the time difference to attend the hearings.

Tejaswin Shankar is a Commonwealth Youth Games gold medallist (File Photo)

“I was really tense for my son. We were left with no option but to approach the court. I had gone to a family function recently but my mind was completely occupied by this case. I am 75 percent relieved now and it will be 100 percent only after he performs well in Birmingham,” Lakshmi said.

‘National embarrassment’

While Tejaswin was included in the squad, the case hasn’t been closed yet as the court would like to further scrutinise selections. It said these issues need to be sorted once and for all to avoid such “national embarrassment” in the future.

“Let all statistics and relevant standards which were referred to in the course of yesterday’s hearing be placed by the petitioner on record by way of an additional affidavit. The Court also leaves it open to the AFI as well as IOA to file any further affidavits that they may deem necessary,” the order said.

Tejaswin hopes this case sets a precedent and removes the “arbitrariness” in AFI’s selection policy. “The rules should be the same for everyone. If you want to compare our medals with countries like the US, you should also compare the selection policies there. They have no ambiguity in selection policies,” reasoned Tejaswin.

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