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‘They are among top 10 in the world, not arbitrary to classify them as elites’: Delhi HC rejects plea challenging exemptions to Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat

The court argued that since the Asian Games 2023 will begin in September, there are only two months left, and in case the ‘elite athletes’ sustained injury they would not be able to recover from it.

On the 22nd of July, the Delhi High Court dismissed the plea filed by ace wrestlers Antim Panghal and Sujeet Kalkal. The plea had challenged the exemption granted to wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat which allowed their direct entry into the Asian Games 2023. 

Justice Subramonium Prasad claimed that the unanimous decision of the ad-hoc committee was not arbitrary or perverse. Claiming that the two athletes are among the top 10 wrestlers in the world, it is not arbitrary to classify them as ‘elite athletes’. 

The court said, “It is nobody’s case that Respondent No.3 & 4 (Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat) are not well known in their respective categories. 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.”

The court clarified that it was not commenting upon the merits of Panghal and Kalkal as they have also excelled in the field of wrestling, however, it declined to intervene in this matter. 

The court argued that since the Asian Games 2023 will begin in September, there are only two months left, and in case the ‘elite athletes’ sustained injury they would not be able to recover from it. With that, the court added that they are also medals probable and thus the decision to allow them direct entry to the Asian Games was not arbitrary. 

It added, “The Asian Games are to begin in about two months’ time, and in case the 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 Respondents No.3 & 4 (Punia and Phogat) from selection trials in order to ensure that they are not to exposed to injuries during trials cannot be said to be arbitrary or capricious or perverse.”

Earlier on Tuesday, 18 July, the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) ad-hoc committee granted exemptions to Punia and Phogat from the trials for the men’s freestyle 65 kg and women’s 53 kg categories. This decision was met with stiff opposition from coaches, current and former athletes, and their parents. 

In a video communication, Antim Panghal raised objections to the ad-hoc panel’s decision. The 19-year-old wrestler from Hisar, along with 21-year-old wrestler Sujeet, currently training in Sonepat, expressed their belief that trials should be conducted fairly, without granting any exemptions to any wrestler. They also emphasised that the entire process should be video-graphed to ensure transparency.

Upset and dejected at the ad-hoc panel’s decision, Panghal asked whether she should quit wrestling completely. 

She said, “Hum pehelwani chhod dein? (Should I quit wrestling?) All I want is a fair trial. I’m not saying that only I can defeat her, there are many women wrestlers out there who can do so.” 

A day after the exemption was granted, on 19th July, under-20 World Champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian Champion Sujeet Kalkal filed a petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the decision by the IOC’s ad-hoc committee. They challenged the exemption and urged the court to direct the wrestling body to conduct a fair selection process for the Asian Games.

The petition was moved by advocates Hrishikesh Baruah and Akshay Kumar. They wanted the court to quash the directive issued by the IOA ad-hoc committee and set aside the exemptions granted to wrestlers Punia and Phogat. 

While Panghal and Kalkal challenged the exemption in the Delhi High Court, several wrestlers and their parents protested at the venue for the trials in New Delhi. Resultantly, the trials at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in the national capital will go ahead behind closed doors on the 22nd and 23rd of July. 

Except for the two weight categories, wrestlers will try their luck to secure a ticket for the grand event scheduled to be held in China later this year. 

On the 22nd of July, the trials for men’s Greco-Roman and women’s wrestling commenced. A day later, on the second and final day, 23rd July, trials for the freestyle team will be held. The committee will oversee trials in a total of 18 Olympic weight categories except for the two for which Punia and Phogat’s have already been exempted.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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