Delhi HC Upholds Punia and Phogat’s Exemption from Selection Trials

In an order dated July 22, 2023, the Delhi High Court in Sujeet and Anr. vs. Union of India and Ors [WP(C) 9593/2023 & CM APPLS. 36686-87/2023] upheld the decision of the Ad-hoc Committee of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) allowing Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat to represent India in the upcoming Asian Games, which are scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China, from September 23 to October 8.

The petitioners, Sujeet Kalkal, the U23 Asian champion, and Antim Panghal, the U20 world champion, challenged the direct entry given to Phogat and Punia, arguing that they should not have been exempted from undergoing section trials. The petitioners demanded a fair selection process and wanted to overturn the exemption decision.

The court perused the status report and affidavit filed by the WFI and remarked that interference by writ courts is not warranted when experts provide opinions unless the experts’ decision is perverse or illegal. Moreover, it was pointed out that the WFI regulations confer discretionary power upon the Selection Committee to select iconic players like Olympic/World Championship medalists if a recommendation from the Chief Coach to that effect is in place.

Considering that the Asian Games were scheduled to begin soon and if any “injury is caused to the elite athletes, who are medal probables, the time for recovery is extremely low”, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Subramoniam Prasad observed that the committee’s decision to exempt respondents no. 3 & 4 from selection trials to prevent their exposure to injuries during trials “cannot be said to be arbitrary, capricious or perverse”.