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HC refuses to interfere with trials exemption to wrestlers Vinesh, Bajrang

Phogat (53kg) and Punia (65kg) were given direct entry for the Asian Games by the Indian Olympic Association's ad-hoc committee on Tuesday

Delhi High Court

Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Delhi High Court Saturday refused to interfere with the exemption granted to top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia from the Asian Games trials and dismissed a petition by two well-known grapplers against their direct entry into the Indian squad for the tournament.

Under-20 world champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian champion Sujeet Kalkal had moved the court challenging the special treatment to Phogat and Punia.

Justice Subramonium Prasad said although the petitioners themselves have also excelled in the field of wrestling, the court was not inclined to sit in appeal over the decision taken by an expert committee which unanimously decided that being elite athletes, Phogat and Punia should be exempted from trials in order to prevent injury to them.

Both Punia and Phogat, the court observed, are world renowned athletes in the sport of wrestling and feature in the World Top 10 rankings, and the decision to grant them direct entry cannot be said to be arbitrary.

The Ad-hoc Committee of the WFI, which comprises experts in the field of wrestling, have unanimously decided that Respondents No.3 (Punia) & 4 (Phogat), who are elite athletes, should be exempted from selection trials in order to prevent them from suffering any injury in the selection process, the court said.

The Asian Games are to begin in about two months' time and in case injury is caused to the elite athletes, who are medal probables, the time for recovery is extremely low and, therefore, the decision taken by the Committee to exempt Respondents No.3 & 4 from selection trials in order to ensure that they are not to exposed to injuries during trials cannot be said to be arbitrary or capricious or perverse, the court ruled.

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

Panghal and Kalkal moved the high court on July 19 challenging the arbitrary exemption and demanded a fair selection process for the quadrennial showpiece event.

Senior advocate Arunabh Chowdhury appeared for the ad-hoc panel running the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) affairs and said a meeting of the four members of the ad-hoc committee and two chief coaches was held on July 12, and all of them unanimously agreed to keep two weight categories reserved for the elite athletes.

Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah, appearing for the petitioners, assailed the selection of Phogat and Punia on several grounds, including that the general body of the WFI had withdrawn the provision for exempting sportspersons in August 2022.

The ad-hoc committee, however, filed an affidavit stating categorically that such a decision was not available in the records available with it, and even after alleged withdrawal of exemption, there were other instances of such exemptions being granted to top wrestlers.

The counsel for the petitioners also claimed the coaches have gone to media and said they were not aware of any decision to grant exemption.

It lawyer argued that while the petitioners 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.

The court, in its 23-page verdict, recorded that the regulations make it clear that the selection committee had the discretion to select iconic players like medallists of Olympic/World Championship without trials provided there is a recommendation by chief coach and, in the instant case, all six members, including the chief coaches, attended the meeting of the committee on July 12 when the unanimous decision to not expose Phogat and Punia to injury during the trials was taken.

It is neither the contention of the petitioners nor can it be said that the WFI has acted against the interest of the country or that the decision has been taken because of certain extraneous circumstances or in order to favour anyone, it added.

The court also clarified that disputed documents in the present case can only be proved in a suit by leading oral or documentary evidence and not in proceedings in a writ petition.

This Court is not commenting upon the merits of the petitioners who have also excelled in the field of wrestling but this Court is not inclined to sit in appeal over the decision taken by the Committee as the same cannot be said to be arbitrary or perverse..

"....a similar decision was taken on 27.08.2022 also wherein exemption was granted to Respondent No.3 from undergoing selection trials for his participation in the World Wrestling Championship and he came back with a medal for the country, the court observed.

The judge said he was not inclined to entertain the writ petition which stood dismissed.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and advocate Anil Soni appeared for the Centre.

Olympic bronze medallist Punia and Phogat, who won the 2018 Asian Games gold medal, were at the forefront of the wrestlers' protest at Jantar Mantar demanding the arrest of outgoing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for the alleged sexual harassment of seven women grapplers.

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First Published: Jul 22 2023 | 6:27 PM IST

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