Accomplishments of athletes with intellectual disabilities often forgotten; Delhi High Court allows PIL highlighting irregularities in functioning of Special Olympics Bharat

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by the Petitioner as a Public Interest Litigation (‘PIL’) highlighting the irregularities in the functioning of Special Olympics Bharat (‘SOB’) (respondent 4), a National Sports Federation recognized by the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs (respondent 2) and entrusted with the responsibility to select and provide appropriate training to sportspersons with intellectual disabilities for representation in Special Olympic World Games. A division bench of Manmohan, CJ., and Sanjeev Narula, J., allowed the PIL as the issues raised by the petitioner in the present PIL have been substantively resolved by SOB.

The issues raised by the petitioner relate to alleged irregularities and favoritism in the selection of sportspersons for the Special Olympics World Games and in the appointment of office-bearers of SOB, specifically the Chairman, CEO, National Sports Director, and National Coach. The facts of the case to the extent relevant are that SOB was recognized as a National Sports Federation vide letter dated 18-01-2006 (‘Recognition Letter’), issued by the Ministry. The letter specified that the recognition was conditional upon the continued observance of specific terms and conditions including the condition that the term of an office-bearer could not exceed 3 years at a time and that no person could hold office for more than 2 consecutive terms. It was further specified that SOB must abide by all the Guidelines issued by the Government of India from time to time.

The petitioner alleged against SOB that for participation in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2019 held in Abu Dhabi, SOB selected sportspersons with hearing impairments who do not fall within the purview of persons with intellectual disabilities thereby violating the terms of recognition as a National Sports Federation. Further, Respondent 5, the Chairman of SOB has continued in the post of Chairman for 22 years and has now attained the age of 90 years thereby violating the National Sports Development Code 2011 (NSDC). Respondent 6 was appointed as the National Sports Director and National Coach in violation of the selection guidelines specified in the NSDC as he does not possess the necessary credentials in the field of sports.

On the issue of the selection of sportspersons for participation in the World Olympic Special Games, SOB submitted that it has formulated guidelines for selection as per Annexure-XXI of the NSDC. Accordingly, SOB has placed on record its Selection Guidelines for Special Olympics Bharat, 2018. On a perusal of the Selection Guidelines, the Court noted that it has been formulated in accordance with the requirements of the NSDC. On the issue of tenures of its office-bearers, SOB submitted that after the NSDC came into effect, the trust deed of SOB was amended on 14-05-2013 to incorporate the conditions prescribed in the NSDC, however, the changes follow the limitations on the tenure of office-bearers prescribed under Annexure- XIII of the NSDC. It was also admitted that Respondent 5 demitted the post of Chairman on 10-05-2019 and, accordingly, a new person has been appointed to the post of Chairman.

On the issue of the appointment of National Coaches, SOB has submitted a list of National coaches selected for various sports for the 16th Special Olympic World Games held in Berlin from 17-06-2023 to 25-06-2023. SOB has submitted that all the coaches were appointed by the selection committee constituted in accordance with the Guidelines prescribed in Annexure XXI of NSDC. On a perusal of the list, it appeared that Respondent 6 no longer serves as a National Coach for SOB. Considering the positive developments that have taken place during the pendency of the proceedings, the Court opined that the issues raised by the Petitioner in the present PIL have been substantively resolved by SOB.

The Court concluded that SOB must continue to ensure strict compliance with the NSDC for all the upcoming elections of office-bearers at the national and state level and for the selection of sportspersons and national coaches for the upcoming Special Olympic World Games, 2025.

[Vijay Kumar Pandey v Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 7224, decided on 08-11-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Anurag Ahluwalia, CGSC with Mr. Tarveen Singh, GP for R-1 & 2.

Mr. Neeraj Shekhar and Dr. Sumit Kumar, Advocates for R-3.

Mr. Vierat K. Anand, Mr. Harish Nadda, Mr. Kumar Shashank, Mr.Vikalp Singh and Mr. Arun Yadav, Advocates with Mr. Harpreet Singh, AR for R-4

Mr. Gautam Narayan (Amicus Curiae), Advocate with Ms. Asmita Singh, Mr. Harshit Goel and Mr. Siddhant Singh, Advocates.

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