A total of six hours of arguments were heard in a span of three weeks and a landmark judgment of 37 pages was delivered by Hon’ble Justice Manmohan on 6 June 2016. Sushil Kumar, the only Indian athlete to have won two Olympic medals, saw his petition dismissed, all but ending his hopes of competing at the Rio Olympics this year.
The judgment covered issues relating to selection procedures, applicability of precedents, perjury and so on. However, there was no mention of the blatant violation of the National Sports Development
Code, 2011 (“the Code”) by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
Is it Really Too Late for Trials?
The WFI held trials on July 7, 2015 for the World Championship in Las Vegas in September 2015. Those trials itself were in violation of the Code as it strictly states that the wrestlers be informed of the trials one month before the date. Here the notification
was sent just 10 days before to the event.
Furthermore, those trials also were held two months before the event in Vegas.
So while Narsingh was eligible in his weight category for the the Championship (which in the WFI’s opinion, is a tougher event than the Olympics anyway) why is it ‘too late’ for a trial now. When there are still just about two months left for the big event?
In fact, if India had not won a berth at the World Championship last September, it is possible that the wrestlers would still have been trying secure a berth in the 74kg category as late as May 2016.
Is Injury Not a Part of Any Sport?
The reason Sushil Kumar wasn’t able to participate in the trials was a shoulder injury. However, an injury thirteen months prior to a major international event should not hamper someone’s chances of participation at the event.
For instance, Rafael Nadal pulling out from Roland Garros this year due to an injury did not automatically imply that he would pull out of Wimbledon as well.
The WFI has no injury policy, and no mechanism keeping record with regard to medical certificates.
Just because Yadav’s luck favored him and he won in the very first qualifier, does it mean that a two time Olympic medalist doesn’t deserve a trial in an exceptional circumstance?
Who is Better of the Two Grapplers?
WFI’s other contention is the Yadav is better than Kumar, because he has been competing in the 74kg category for almost 10 years. It’s like saying Sachin Tendulkar is better than Virat Kohli, without giving Kohli 24 years to play for the country.
The wrestlers have never competed against each other (at least not in the recent past) for anyone to draw a comparison between them. They were present at a camp together in Sonepat from January to March this year, along with the chief coach and other experts. But then it is rather strange that no one suggested the two grapplers get into a bout.
WFI later alleged that Kumar was avoiding Narshingh as he refused to participate in the Pro Wrestling League, a wrestling counterpart of the IPL.
Why Waste Public Funds?
The WFI claimed that Sushil went to Georgia in October 2015, trained separately and misappropriated the funds granted to him under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme.
But the WFI chose to allocate funds to him all over again in March 2016 to send him to Georgia to train for Rio 2016. If the decision to send Yadav was taken as early as September 2015 then why was Sushil sent to Georgia?
WFI: The Hub of all Selection Trial Disputes?
The judgment also highlights the number of disputes that have risen with regard to selection trials conducted or not having been conducted by WFI:
Shankar Patel vs Union of India – a case of demand of trials due to lapse of
time between the event and the last conducted trials.
vs Union of India – a case where the athlete failed to qualify for the
selection trials based on ranking in the national championships
Rathi vs Union of India – a case where the athlete lost by a clincher and
insisted there must be another round of selection trials.
Kumar Dhankar’s Court Plea – The wrestler was forced to take his case to the Delhi High Court after the WFI did not conduct trials for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. All previous editions of the Games had seen trials for all categories.
The Curious Case of WFI Rules
In a span of a decade, we have had over 5 different disputes related to the selection procedure followed by the WFI and the Courts have constantly been reluctant to interfere with the autonomy granted to the National Sports Federations (NSFs) by the Code.
It is the courts’ job to delve into the issue. And when such a case arises in the future, they must order the WFI to have a written policy in place like the National Rifle Association of India, instead of giving them the leeway to function under the guise of convention.
The authors of the story are Sushil Kumar’s lawyers, who will be joining The Quint for a Facebook Live session at 12pm on Friday.
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