Asian Games: Delhi HC dismisses wrestlers’ plea against Phogat, Punia’s exemption from trials

Wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat. — IANS

New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) The Delhi High Court on Saturday upheld the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) decision allowing wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat to represent India at the Asian Games, to be held in Hangzou, China, from September 23 to October 8, without undergoing trials. 

Justice Subramonium Prasad’s judgement came on a plea filed by U-20 world champion Antim Panghal and U-23 Asian champion Sujeet Kalkal, who had challenged the direct entry given to wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, exempting them from trials.

The judge, after having reserved his order on Friday, dismissed the petition on Saturday. It is to be noted that the trials will end on Sunday. 

Justice Prasad had on Friday said that he will not deal with the issue of who is a “better wrestler”.

“We will only see if the procedure has been followed or not,” the judge had said.

On Thursday, the court had asked the ad-hoc panel responsible for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) affairs to clarify the reasons behind exempting Phogat and Punia from the Asian Games trials.

Justice Prasad had asked the WFI to present its response during the day and said that if the selection basis is fair and reasonable, there would be no issue. The court also asked about the laurels earned by the two selected players.

It was the petitioners’ case that there should be a trial for the selection process rather than solely relying on past performances.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing the Centre, had submitted before the court that the selection policy allows for exemptions for certain players, particularly iconic athletes such as Olympic/World Championship medallists, based on recommendations from the chief coach/foreign expert.

However, the petitioners’ counsel had contended that the selection of Phogat and Punia did not adhere to the exemption policy mentioned by the WFI.

Phogat and Punia were directly selected for the Asian Games by the Indian Olympic Association’s ad-hoc committee, while other wrestlers were required to compete in selection trials on July 22 and 23 to secure their spots in the Indian squad.

Panghal and Kalkal had demanded a fair selection process for the two categories (men’s freestyle 65kg and women’s 53kg) and sought to set aside the directive issued by the ad-hoc committee granting exemptions to Phogat and Punia.

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