Sports

India Wrestling Selection Trials Controversy: Delhi High Court Issues Notice On Plea By Protesting Grapplers

The court listed the plea for further hearing on March 7 after the central government's standing counsel, Anil Soni sought time to get instructions in the matter

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The protesting wrestlers have accused the WFI of several wrongdoings. (File Photo)
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The Delhi High Court on Monday issued notice to the Central government, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and the Ad-Hoc Committee of the sports body on the petition moved by Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and her husband Satyawart Kadian. (More Sports News)

The plea contended that the WFI elections, held on December 21, 2023, were in violation of the country's Sports Code and sought a direction to the federation to "cease and desist" from undertaking any activity in the running of the sport, including holding selection trials. The petitioners have accused the WFI of several wrongdoings.

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The court listed the plea for further hearing on March 7 after the central government's standing counsel, Anil Soni sought time to get instructions in the matter. Senior advocate Dayan Krishnan represented the WFI.

Punia, Phogat, Malik and Kadian led last year's protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, and demanded the arrest of former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for alleged sexual harassment of women grapplers. It's worth noting that Sanjay Kumar Singh, a close associate of Brij Bhushan, was subsequently elected as the new president of the WFI in December last year.

In February, Sanjay Kumar Singh invited the protesting grapplers to appear in the selection trials for the Asian Wrestling Championships and Paris Olympic Games Qualifiers with a promise that they would not face any discrimination.

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Sakshi has already announced her retirement while Vinesh made a winning comeback to competitive wrestling by winning gold at the Nationals in Jaipur. Bajrang, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist, is training in Russia.

"The petitioner prays the court may be pleased to set aside and declare elections held by R2/WFI on December 21, 2023 as illegal and void ab-initio since the same has been held in blatant violation of the sports code," the petition said.

"The present writ petition is being filed by the petitioners inter alia assailing, challenging, and seeking directions against the illegal action of the suspended Wrestling Federation of India conducting selection trials for the Senior Asian Wrestling Championships 2024 and Asian Olympic Games Qualifier Wrestling Tournament notified through its circular dated February 26, 2024 against the directives of the ad-hoc Committee for Wrestling Federation of India."

"The petitioners would like to place on record that apart from them, there are many other athletes/wrestlers who are also facing similar harassment owing to their upright/honest stand against respondent no. 2/WFI and its officials over the illegalities by respondent no.2 in collusion and under instructions of respondent no. 2's/WFI former President and member of Parliament from Kaiserganj constituency namely Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

The petitioners have also accused the WFI of trying to silence and sideline them, impacting their prospects of participating in international events.

"Every possible means have been deployed by respondent no. 2/WFI to muffle the voices of the protesting petitioners and deprive them from any future scope of participation at the international level irrespective of their merit and competence," it added.

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The petitioners, through senior advocate Rahul Mehra, sought a direction to the ad-hoc committee to continue taking care of the day-to-day affairs and management of the WFI or, in the alternative, appoint a retired Supreme Court judge as an administrator to take over the affairs and management of the body.

The petition claimed the WFI has been a "habitual offender" as it has deliberately flouted directions passed by the Sports Ministry and the ad-hoc committee on multiple occasions, adversely affecting the career prospects of Indian wrestlers.

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The United World Wrestling (UWW), the world governing body, lifted the suspension on the WFI in February with a rider that no wrestler should face discrimination. The government, however, has not yet made such a decision.

Antim Panghal, in the women's 53kg category, remains the only Indian wrestler to have qualified for the Paris Games. Indian can qualify in 17 more weight categories across men's freestyle, Greco-Roman and women's wrestling. The Asian Wrestling Championships in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan from April 19 to 21 and the World Olympic Games qualifiers in Istanbul, Turkey from May 9 to 12 are the remaining qualifying events for Indians.

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(With PTI inputs)

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