Selection battles: Courts are offering athletes a direct lifeline

The courts seem to have become the new playground for Indian athletes to seek selection into the India team. At least, this is what recent trends suggest as more and more athletes are moving courts against their respective federations alleging ‘unfair selections’ and ‘inconsistent policies.’

The latest being high jumper Tejaswin Shankar who was left out of the India squad for the Commonwealth Games. Shankar, the national record holder in the event, achieved the qualification standard in the US where he is completing his collegiate 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. However, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI)’s contention for his exclusion was that neither the result came at a meet in India, nor he had sought exemption to skip the Inter-State Athletics Championships held in Chennai.

Before Shankar, three table tennis players (Diya Chitale, Swastika Ghosh, Archana Kamath and Manush Shah) had gone to court against Commonwealth Games team selection. It is another matter that the TT selection panel was drawn by a high court-appointed committee of administrators. In October, boxer Arundhati Choudhary, a youth world champion, had sought selection trial against Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain who was given a direct entry into the world championships.

“It is not a good trend and it puts the sport in poor light,” says former international and national selector U Vimal Kumar. “I feel there is a lot of communication gap between federations and athletes. There should be a grievance cell, so that the athlete can get immediate clarification, otherwise nobody knows what is happening and why a player is dropped,” he said.

What has also given athletes the strength to take on the federations is the recent judgements where the NSF’s selection policies have been severely criticized, says lawyer Rahul Mehra.

Manika Batra got a reprieve from the Delhi high court when the table tennis federation dropped her from the Asian Championships in September last year. One of the most high profile cases was when double Olympic champion Sushil Kumar went to court for being denied trials against Narsingh Yadav before the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Athletes not having faith in the system is not new. The new thing is now they are fighting for their rights. They are seeing that the court is proactive. Earlier, they would fear that the federation bosses would team up together and they would never get selected if they approached court. There was always favouritism, nepotism, even basics of a selection policy — like an open trial or issuance of advanced notice – are not followed,” said Mehra, who has been running a long battle against the national sports federation (NSFs) for not complying with the Sports Code.

“The sports code says that eminent sports persons should be part of the selection panel. How many NSF’s are following this? Most often the selection panel is handpicked by federations.”

Senior administrator Dhanraj Chaudhary says federations have got their act right when it comes to selection. “As far as possible, players should try to resolve differences with the federation. Nowadays every federation is very particular in following the selection criteria. There is transparency. The federation is in fact fearful because it doesn’t want to get into legal hassles. Sometimes a player does not participate in national championships or selection trials because of injury, but as per selection criteria they cannot be selected. The federation knows all these things,” says the former TTFI president.

Vimal Kumar feels that one way is to have an independent performance director who can review the selection and coaches. “Selection is not easy. It is also not fair to base it on one trial, eventually they have to perform at the highest level. I have looked into the selection criteria of several countries – Canada, Britain etc. They need to have an independent performance director outside of the federation who is above the selection panel and coach and gives a report on selection matters.”

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