Delhi high court quashes plea against Vinesh, Bajrang for Asian Games trials

The Delhi high court on Saturday quashed the petition by wrestlers Antim Panghal and Sujeet Kalkal opposing the direct Asian Games entry given to World Championships medallists Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia by the ad hoc committee running the sport.

Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat during a press conference.(Hindustan Times)

The court said regulations made it clear that it was the selection committee’s discretion to pick iconic wrestlers like Olympic and World Championship medallists without trials, provided it is recommended by the chief coach. The court said the panel had gone by the performances of Phogat and Punia in world events. Both won bronze in the worlds last September.

Panghal competes in 53kg division like Phogat and Kalkal is in Punia’s 65kg freestyle category. The exemption from trials means the two will only be standbys for the Hangzhou Games even if they win the trials that are currently on.

Justice Subramonium Prasad, in his verdict, said once the ad-hoc committee comprising wrestling experts had made a unanimous decision, to prevent any injury to Phogat and Punia during the trials, the courts must not substitute their opinions to those arrived at by experts.

While not commenting upon the merits of the petitioners – Panghal is junior world champion and Kalkal is U-20 world medallist and U-23 Asia champion – the court said it “is not inclined to sit in appeal over the decision taken by the selection committee as the same cannot be said to be arbitrary or perverse”.

Referring to the ad hoc committee’s decision taken on July 12 to exempt Phogat and Punia from the trials, the court said: “In fact, both the athletes are in the world top 10 rankings and, therefore, the categorisation of these athletes as elite athletes also cannot be said to be perverse or arbitrary.”

Justice Prasad said unlike other sports, there is a greater risk of injury being caused to the players during trials in sports like wrestling and boxing.

The court noted that rules show trials are held to provide exposure to potential medal winners at the next Olympics or Asian Games and create bench strength in the event of the No.1 wrestler not being able to compete due to injury or other reasons.

“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 Phogat and Punia from selection trials to ensure that they are not to exposed to injuries during trials cannot be said to be arbitrary or capricious or perverse,” the court said in a 23-page judgement.

The petition was filed on July 20. The court had reserved its order on Friday after hearing the parties.

Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah for the petitioners contended that since Phogat and Punia were in the sit-in protest, they have not trained or participated in the national camp. He said the court will have to consider national interests over everything else as his clients had been working hard for selection.

The ad hoc panel running wrestling, opposing the petition, said: “Law is well settled that the decision as to who should represent India, in a sporting event, is best left to the experts. The scope of judicial review, in the respectful submission of WFI, is extremely limited and the writ court does not interfere in matters of selection of sports persons.”

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