Delhi HC asks WFI panel to explain reason for exemption to Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia from Asian Games trials

The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the ad hoc panel running the affairs of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to explain the reasons for exempting top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia from the Asian Games trials.

Justice Subramonium Prasad gave the order on a petition by Under-20 World Champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian Champion Sujeet Kalkal against the direct entry granted to Ms. Phogat and Mr. Punia.

Ms. Phogat (53kg) and Mr. Punia (65kg) were given direct entry 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 Saturday and Sunday.

Both were at the forefront of the wrestlers’ protest demanding the arrest of outgoing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for the alleged sexual harassment of seven women grapplers.

“If it [basis for selection] is just, fair and reasonable, it is the end of the matter,” the High Court said while listing the matter for further hearing on Friday. It also asked that the laurels won by the two athletes, who have been selected automatically, be shown to it.

During the hearing, Justice Prasad queried the WFI panel as to what was the basis for the selection besides Ms. Phogat and Mr. Punia being good sportspersons.

‘What is the basis for selection?’

“The petitioners do not doubt the merit of the two wrestlers whom you have selected to represent the country…but what they are saying is that past performance alone can’t be the basis of selection,” the court observed.

“What is the basis for selecting people other than the fact that they are good sportsmen, have you done any kind of a selection process,” the judge asked.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, said the selection policy itself provided for an exemption to certain category of players.

Selection committee’s discretion

According to WFI guidelines, the selection trials in all weight categories are mandatory. However, the selection committee will have the discretion to select the iconic players such as medallists of Olympic/World Championship without trial provided it has been recommended by the Chief Coach/Foreign Expert.

The counsel for Ms. Panghal and Mr. Kalkal claimed there were no foreign experts and the decision to exempt Mr. Punia and Ms. Phogat has been taken without any recommendations from the chief coaches.

They demanded that the directive issued by the IOA ad-hoc committee with regard to the two categories (men’s freestyle 65kg and women’s 53kg) be quashed and the exemption granted to Ms. Phogat and Mr. Punia be set aside.

The plea said while Ms. Panghal and Mr. Kalkal have “been working really hard to clinch their position”, Ms. Phogat and Mr. Punia had not participated in any competition this year and were also not part of the national camp.

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