The Delhi High Court Thursday permitted five wrestlers to participate in the trials being conducted by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) from Friday for the upcoming 2023 Asian Games Championship.
Justice Prathiba M Singh, in a special hearing held on a holiday, said petitioner wrestlers — Anuj Kumar, Chander Mohan, Vijay, Ankit and Sachin Mor — shall be allowed to compete and be judged on their own merit. The high court said the participation in the trial shall not be construed as any opinion made by the court on the merit of wrestlers on which the decision of the selection committee will be final.
“Considering this position and the fact that being talented wrestlers the petitioners should not be excluded in view of the fact that there ought to be greater talent which would compete in the trials, this court is of the opinion that the petitioners ought to be permitted to participate in the trials to be held tomorrow and day after in their respective categories,” the judge said.
The high court was hearing a petition by the five wrestlers, who have won medals and positions at national and international levels, raising the grievance of their exclusion from the trials being conducted by the WFI for the Asian Games Championship to be held in Astana, Kazakhastan from April 9 to 14, 2023.
The petitioners, represented through advocate Rahul Rathore, claimed the criteria adopted by WFI is totally arbitrary and unfair and has resulted in admitting wrestlers for trials who are either inferior or at best at par with them. The petitioners prayed that they ought to be permitted to participate in the trials.
Central government standing counsel Manish Mohan, representing the ministry and WFI, submitted there were various allegations against the office bearers of WFI which had then led to the appointment of the oversight committee by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in end of January 2023.
The oversight committee consists of celebrated wrestlers such as Yogeshwar Dutt and Babita Phogat and the criteria has been fixed by them and, unfortunately, the petitioners do not meet the criteria, he said.
The plea said Anuj Kumar is a gold medal winner in his category in the National Games held in 2022, which are more prestigious than the Senior National Championships conducted by the WFI but only medal winners of the latter are admitted into the trials. It said most of the wrestlers selected for the trials have been defeated by Anuj Kumar in the National Games and otherwise.
Similarly, Chander Mohan, Vijay, Ankit and Sachin Mor are medal winners in national and international championships but have been unfairly excluded by the arbitrarily restrictive criteria adopted by the federation, the plea said.
The plea said this championship, to be held in April, holds significance leading up to the Paris Olympics of 2024. Hence, the trials for the 2023 Asian Championship are of critical importance in the careers of top-level sportspersons and for ensuring that top level athletes are promoted to bring glory to the country, it said.
The high court said the purpose of any trial will be to ensure the best sportsperson participates and the exclusion of national games and other recognised events is, at this stage, not clear to the court.
It noted there are only two days on which the trials are to be held- March 10 and 11.
The high court said a perusal of the criteria adopted by the authorities would show that except for one championship, all the other championships mentioned as the criteria for qualifying for the trials are international championships. Even the national games held by Indian Olympic Association (IOA) have been excluded from the said criteria, it noted. The court noted that on March 3, the petitioners were informed they would not qualify for the trials which are to commence from March 10.
They wrote emails to the oversight committee on March 3, however, the representation was rejected on March 6 when they were informed of the actual criteria.
After perusing the record, the court found that the criteria excludes a large number of winners and medallists in national and international games and the reason for exclusion is not evident at this stage in as much as the petitioners are undisputedly medal winners in several national and international games.
The high court asked the ministry and WFI to file a short affidavit in two weeks explaining the basis of the criteria and listed the petition for further hearing on April 5.