New Delhi | The Delhi High Court Saturday refused to interfere with the exemption granted to top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia from the Asian Games trials and dismissed a petition by two well-known grapplers against their direct entry into the Indian squad for the tournament.
Under-20 world champion Antim Panghal and Under-23 Asian champion Sujeet Kalkal had moved the court challenging the special treatment to Phogat and Punia.
Justice Subramonium Prasad said although the petitioners themselves have also “excelled” in the field of wrestling, the court was not inclined to sit in appeal over the decision taken by an expert committee which unanimously decided that being “elite athletes”, Phogat and Punia should be exempted from trials in order to prevent injury to them.
Both Punia and Phogat, the court observed, are “world renowned athletes in the sport of wrestling” and feature in the “World Top 10” rankings, and the decision to grant them direct entry cannot be said to be arbitrary.
“The Ad-hoc Committee of the WFI, which comprises experts in the field of wrestling, have unanimously decided that Respondents No.3 (Punia) & 4 (Phogat), who are elite athletes, should be exempted from selection trials in order to prevent them from suffering any injury in the selection process,” the court said.
“The Asian Games are to begin in about two months' time and in case 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 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,” the court ruled.
Phogat (53kg) and Punia (65kg) were given direct entry into the Indian squad 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 July 22 and 23.
Panghal and Kalkal moved the high court on July 19 challenging the “arbitrary” exemption and demanded a fair selection process for the quadrennial showpiece event.
Senior advocate Arunabh Chowdhury appeared for the ad-hoc panel running the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) affairs and said a meeting
of the four members of the ad-hoc committee and two chief coaches was held on July 12, and all of them unanimously agreed to keep two weight categories reserved for the elite athletes.
Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah, appearing for the petitioners, assailed the selection of Phogat and Punia on several grounds, including that the general body of the WFI had withdrawn the provision for exempting sportspersons in August 2022.
The ad-hoc committee, however, filed an affidavit stating categorically that such a decision was not available in the records available with it, and even after alleged withdrawal of exemption, there were other instances of such exemptions being granted to top wrestlers. The counsel for the petitioners also claimed the coaches have gone to media and said they were not aware of any decision to grant exemption.
It lawyer argued that while the petitioners have been working "really hard to clinch their position", Phogat and Punia have not participated in any competition this year and were also not part of the national camp. The court, in its 23-page verdict, recorded that the regulations make it clear that the selection committee had the discretion to select iconic players like medallists of Olympic/World Championship without trials provided there is a recommendation by chief coach and, in the instant case, all six members, including the chief coaches, attended the meeting of the committee on July 12 when the unanimous decision to not expose Phogat and Punia to injury during the trials was taken. It is neither the contention of the petitioners nor can it be said that the WFI has acted against the interest of the country or that the decision has been taken because of certain extraneous circumstances or in order to favour anyone, it added.
The court also clarified that disputed documents in the present case can only be proved in a suit by leading oral or documentary evidence and not in proceedings in a writ petition. “This Court is not commenting upon the merits of the petitioners who have also excelled in the field of wrestling but this Court is not inclined to sit in appeal over the decision taken by the Committee as the same cannot be said to be arbitrary or perverse.. "....a similar decision was taken on 27.08.2022 also wherein exemption was granted to Respondent No.3 from undergoing selection trials for his participation in the World Wrestling Championship and he came back with a medal for the country,” the court observed.
The judge said he was not inclined to entertain the writ petition which stood dismissed. Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and advocate Anil Soni appeared for the Centre. Olympic bronze medallist Punia and Phogat, who won the 2018 Asian Games gold medal, were at the forefront of the wrestlers' protest at Jantar Mantar demanding the arrest of outgoing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for the alleged sexual harassment of seven women grapplers.
New Delhi | Talented youngster Antim Panghal made a statement by winning the 53kg trials, moments after her plea challenging the exemption given to Vinesh Phogat was dismissed while Mansi Ahlawat surpassed expectations by sealing her place in the Indian team for the Asian Games from the 57kg field that had two World Championship medallists, here Saturday.
The 19-year-old Panghal put up a dominant show in the 53kg category, winning all her bouts without much fuss.
Handed a bye in the first round, the 2022 Under-20 World Champion began with a 7-2 win over Tamanna and followed that up with a technical superiority win against Neha to move into the semifinals.
The final was even better as she pinned her rival Manju inside two minutes.
However, it will be Vinesh Phogat who will represent India in this category during the Hangzhou Asian Games as the selection committee has already given her direct entry in the 53kg category along with men's freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia (65kg).
"I won the trial fair and square. Why should I be the standby player, I won the trial. The one who did not compete should be standby player in 53kg. My petition has been dismissed but I won't stop, I will keep fighting, we will move the Supreme Court," Panghal told reporters.
"If she keeps getting direct entries like this, how will one know how good we are. We will keep trying. My coach will decide what we are going to do next but the fight will continue. What's the point of me wining three bouts.
"I know she is pretty good and has many medals but she must fight against us in the trials," she said, adding that she will now gear up for the World Championship trials.
The 57kg category turned to be very competitive as it featured World Championship silver-medal winner Anshu Malik and Worlds bronze winner Sarita Mor. The two champions players were drawn to clash in the very first round that was perceived as a final before the final.
Sarita Mor raced to a 5-0 lead against Anshu, who is making a comeback from injury. However the 20-year-old Anshu bounced back with a take-down and a gut wrench move. That narrowed the difference to 4-5 but Sarita used immense power to prevail.
Sarita was later shocked by the U23 World Championship bronze medallist Mansi Ahlawat, who took advantage of one technical mistake from Sarita to employ the 'fitley' move to grab an upset 9-6 win.
From the other side of the draw, another youngster Sito went deep to make the final, winning against Pinky and Neetu.
Mansi, who trains under Mandeep at Chhotu Ram Akhada, continued her good show to comfortably win the final against Sito by technical superiority.
In the 62kg category, Sonam Malik made an impressive comeback from a left elbow injury to win the trials. Manisha was equally impressive in the same draw but the wrestler from Gohana, who trains under Ajmer Malik, won.
The final between Sonam and Manisha was expected to be a cracker of a contest but the Gohana girl pinned the Rohtak girl after pulling off a quick and unsettling four-pointer.
Another wrestler securing her place for the Asian Games from Chottu Ram Akhada was CWG bronze winner Pooja Gehlot. She beat Shivani and Neelam quite easily then pinned veteran Nirmala Devi in the 50kg final.
In 68kg, Nisha Dahiya was favourite but it was Radhika who stole the show. She not only knocked out Nisha but eventually qualified for the Asian Games by edging past Priyanka 9-8 in a very close final.
Divya Kakran, who usually competes in 68kg, moved up to 76kg but could not qualify for the Asian Games, losing the final to veteran Kiran.
In the Greco Roman style, Gyanender (60kg), Neeraj (67kg), Vikash (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Narinder Cheema (97kg) and Naveen (130kg) won their respective trials to make it to the Asian Games squad.
The men's freestyle trials will take place on Sunday.