Tejaswin Shankar and Indian Sports' Long Record of Selection Controversies
Why is India's national high jump record holder not part of the CWG squad?
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India men's high jump national record holder Tejaswin Shankar was left out of the Athletics Federation of India's (AFI) list of 36 athletes named in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) contingent for 2022.
The 23-year-old, who has held the national record since 2018, took his case to the Delhi High Court, and after two hearings, Tejaswin was named in a list of five athletes submitted to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for reconsideration. Only, the decision to make additions to the Indian contingent is not of the IOA's and it is now up to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) to see if they would want to make the late exemption, just weeks before the Opening Ceremony on 28 July.
But How Did Things Even Get Here?
Yep, that would be the logical question to ask. If an athlete is the best high jumper India has ever produced, then why isn't he an obvious choice to represent the country at one of the biggest sporting events?
Well, selection policies.
Let me also just add here that not only does Tejaswin hold the national record of 2.29 meters, he is also the only Indian male high jumper to cross the 2.27 meter mark this season – which was the AFI's Indian qualification mark for the Commonwealth Games.
The only problem, though, was that Tejaswin did not achieve the mark at the designated Indian athletics trials in Chennai in June, but at the American NCAA Championships.
“Let it not be an ego problem,” the Delhi High court judge said while the case was being heard, and it sounds like it just is, isn't it?
Only, maybe, the AFI have a case to make too?
AFI Was Applying Standard Rules Across the Board
The guidelines for selection to the CWG were available for Tejaswin to follow.
Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable, and Seema Punia didn’t attend the national trials meet but they requested for, and received, formal exemptions.
Tejaswin though only has a WhatsApp chat with the national coach, not a confirmation from the selection committee, or the AFI. He may have been led to believe by the coach that an NCAA outing would be enough, but at that level, one would know to get a formal clearance, especially when something similar has happened before to Vikas Gowda in 2018 when he too was denied a spot in the CWG squad as he was training overseas. He has not competed since.
Especially now, when India’s medal count at big sporting events continue to increase each time, the level of professionalism needed to handle the contenders also needs streamlining.
Think about cricket – Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah are by far the country’s best cricketers. But what if they just refuse to attend a training camp one day, without notice. Would they be allowed to play the series? A failed Yo-Yo test means a direct exit from the Indian team.
When rules are strict, the process is streamlined, and exceptions are not considered to be the norm – that’s how champions function.
So why fault the federation for maintaining disciplined standards?
Who Do You Leave Out Anyway?
Yes, it was a case of Tejaswin or someone else. India's athletics federation had been informed that only 36 spots in the country's CWG contingent were available for the track-and-field stars.
So, think of the 36 athletes named in the initial Indian squad. Almost all competed at the trials, met the qualification requirements, were picked by the selection committee, and have been training at national camps and competing in national tournaments.
In contrast, Tejaswin has competed in one event in India in the last four years. He has been pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas while also competing at national college-level tournaments, where this June he became only the second Indian, after Somdev Devvarman, to win two NCAA Championships.
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