The courts seem to have become the new playground for Indian athletes to be selected for the Indian team. At least that’s what recent trends suggest, as more and more athletes take legal action against their respective federations, alleging “unfair selections” and “inconsistent policies”.
The latest being high jumper Tejaswin Shankar who was left out of India’s Commonwealth Games squad. Shankar, the national record holder for the event, has reached the qualifying standard in the United States where he is ending his college career. Competing for Kansas State University, Shankar jumped 2.27m at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) outdoor meet in Eugene, Oregon on June 12. during a meeting in India, he had also not asked for an exemption to skip the Interstate Athletics Championships held in Chennai.
Prior to Shankar, three table tennis players (Diya Chitale, Swastika Ghosh, Archana Kamath and Manush Shah) went to court against the Commonwealth Games team selection. It’s another matter that the TT selection board was pulled by a board of trustees appointed by the higher court. In October, world youth champion boxer Arundhati Choudhary requested a trial against Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Lovlina Borgohain, who had been granted direct entry to the world championships.
“It’s not a good trend and it puts the sport in a bad light,” said former international and national U manager Vimal Kumar. “I have the impression that there is a big communication gap between the federations and the athletes. There should be a complaints cell, so that the athlete can get immediate clarification, otherwise no one knows what is happening and why a player is dropped,” he said.
What has also given athletes the strength to confront the federations are the recent judgments where the NSF’s selection policies have been severely criticized, explains lawyer Rahul Mehra.
Manika Batra was granted a reprieve from the Delhi high court when the table tennis federation withdrew her from the Asian championships in September last year. One of the most high-profile cases was when two-time Olympic champion Sushil Kumar went to court over being denied lawsuits against Narsingh Yadav ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“Athletes who don’t trust the system are nothing new. The novelty is that they are now fighting for their rights. federation never teamed up and they were never selected if they went to court. There has always been favoritism, nepotism, even the basics of a selection policy – like an open trial or the issuance of notice – are not followed,” said Mehra, who has fought a long battle with the National Sports Federation (NSF) for failing to follow the sport’s code.
“The sports code stipulates that eminent sportsmen must be part of the selection jury. How many NSFs follow this? Most often, the selection jury is hand-picked by the federations.
Chief administrator Dhanraj Chaudhary says the federations are right when it comes to selection. “Whenever possible, players should try to resolve disputes with the federation. Nowadays, each federation is very particular in respecting the selection criteria. There is transparency. The federation is indeed afraid because it does not want to embark on legal harassment. Sometimes a player does not participate in national championships or selection trials due to injury, but according to the selection criteria, he cannot be selected. The federation knows all these things”, explains the former president of the TTFI.
Vimal Kumar believes one solution is to have an independent performance director who can review selection and coaches. “The selection is not easy. Nor is it fair to rely on a single try, they must eventually perform at the highest level. I looked at the selection criteria of several countries – Canada, Great Britain, etc. They must have an independent performance director outside the federation who is above the selection committee and the coach and who reports on selection matters.