Delhi High Court: In a case wherein the present writ petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution by the petitioners, seeking to challenge the decision of the Ad-hoc Committee of the Wrestling Federation of India (‘WFI’) selecting Bajrang Punia, Respondent 3 and Vinesh Phogat, Respondent 4 as wrestlers in 65 Kg (Freestyle Men) category and 53 Kg (Women Wrestling) category (‘categories in question’) respectively to represent India in the Asian Games 2023 to be held in Hangzhou, China from 23-9-2023 to 8-10-2023, a Single Judge Bench of Subramonium Prasad, J.*, opined that it was not the function of the Courts to sit in judgment over the decision arrived at by the experts, if the said decision had been taken in good faith and was not perverse, as it would be risky for the Courts to tread an unknown path while upsetting such decisions. The Court further opined that the decision by the Selection Committee had been taken looking at the performances of Respondents 3 and 4 in the world wrestling events and unlike other sports, there was a greater risk of injury being caused to the players during trials in sports like wrestling and boxing. Thus, the Court dismissed the writ petition.
Petitioners 1 and 2 were professional wrestlers in the weight category of 65 Kg (Freestyle) (Men) wrestling and weight category of 53 Kg (Women) wrestling, respectively and had won several medals for the country in various world championships. The petitioners submitted that they had been preparing and training for months with a hope of being selected to represent the country in the forthcoming Asian Games and that the decision of the Ad-hoc Committee of the WFI to select Respondents 3 and 4 to represent the country in their respective categories without undergoing trials had shattered their hopes. It was further contended by the petitioners that as per the WFI Regulations for Selection of Wrestlers for participation in the National Coaching Camps/International Competitions mandated that as a general rule, selection trials in all weight categories were mandatory. Further, the decision to exempt Respondents 3 & 4 from undergoing selection trials in their respective categories was arbitrary and unfair as the same was contrary to the WFI Regulations for Selection of Wrestlers.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court relied on Regulation for Selection of Wrestles for participation in the National Coaching Camps/International Competitions and observed that Clauses 2 and 3 of the said Regulations showed that the selection trials were conducted keeping in view the exposure necessary for potential medal winners at the next Olympic or Asian Games and creation of a bench strength while giving exposures to wrestlers ranked 2 or 3 so that replacement was possible in the event the ranked 1 wrestler was unable to participate in view of injury or some other reasons. The Court opined that the regulations also made it clear that for the purpose of selection of Wrestlers for Asian Games, the Selection Committee had the discretion to select iconic players like medalists of Olympic/World Championship without trials provided there was a recommendation by Chief Coach and this discretion was not available for the Olympic games and the Commonwealth Games.
The Court opined that the unanimous decision taken by the Committee to not to expose Respondents 3 and 4, who had been termed as elite athletes, to injuries during trials could not be said to be arbitrary or perverse as Respondents 3 and 4 were well known in their respective categories. In fact, both the athletes were in the World Top 10 rankings and, therefore, the categorization of these athletes as elite athletes also could not be said to be perverse or arbitrary.
Therefore, the issue for consideration before this Court was “whether this Court should exercise its discretion under Article 226 of the Constitution and set aside the decision taken by the Ad-hoc Committee of the WFI in exempting Respondents 3 and 4 from undergoing selections trials for the forthcoming Asian Games or not?”.
The Court noted that the Members of the Selection Committee included imminent persons who were connected with the field of wrestling and had won Dhyanchand and Dronacharya Awards have taken a decision to exempt Respondents 3 and 4 from selection trials for the categories in question and have selected them directly based on their performance in the world wrestling events to represent the country in the forthcoming Asian Games. The Court further noted that the Selection Committee had also taken the unanimous decision to hold trials for the categories in question only to create a bench strength so that in case Respondent 3 or 4 were not able to participate in their respective categories due to any reason then the wrestlers from the bench could replace them, if it was permitted by the games authorities.
The Court opined that it was not the function of the Courts to sit in judgment over the decision arrived at by the experts, if the said decision had been taken in good faith and was not perverse, as it would be risky for the Courts to tread an unknown path while upsetting such decisions. The Court relied on Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 3660, wherein it was held that “a writ court would not interfere in exercise of discretion of National Sports Federation and substitute its own judgment except where discretion was shown to have been exercised in an arbitrary or capricious or perverse manner or contrary to settled principles or practices”. The Court also relied on Swastika Ghosh v. Table Tennis Federation of India, (2022) 4 HCC (Del) 213, wherein a Co-ordinate Bench of this Court held that “the Courts did not have any expertise to get into the selection and finalization of players for participation at the international level”.
The Court opined that the decision by the Selection Committee had been taken looking at the performances of Respondents 3 and 4 in the world wrestling events and unlike other sports, there was a greater risk of injury being caused to the players during trials in sports like wrestling and boxing. The Court noted that the Asian Games were to begin in about two months’ time and in case injury was caused to the elite athletes, who were medal probable’s, the time for recovery was extremely low and, therefore, the decision taken by the Selection Committee to exempt Respondents 3 and 4 from selection trials in order to ensure that they were not to exposed to injuries during trials could not be said to be arbitrary or capricious or perverse.
Thus, the Court dismissed the petition.
[Sujeet v. Union of India, W.P. (C) 9593 of 2023, decided on 22-7-2023]
*Judgment authored by: Justice Subramonium Prasad
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Petitioners: Hrishikesh Baruah, Akshay Kumar, Advocates;
For the Respondents: Chetan Sharma, ASG; Anil Soni, CGSC; Devvrat Yadav, GP; Arnab Chaudhary, Senior Advocate; Amit Gupta, Saurabh Tripathi, Vinay Yadav, Ghanshyam Jha, Awantika Manohar, Anirudh Singh, Parul Dhurvey, Vikash Singh, Aniruddma M. Sethi, Tushar Giri, Sahil Bhalaik, Siddharth Anil Khanna, Advocates.