In a first of sorts for Indian sport, the Indian judiciary will be at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi Saturday morning to witness and oversee a kabaddi match. The match — between players who represented India at the Asian Games and those who were not picked — is as per a Delhi High Court order last month.
The High Court case is against officials of the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), who face allegations of wrongdoing in the selection of Asian Games teams.
The bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao had ordered the AKFI to “conduct a selection process which shall commence from 15th September 2018 at 11:00 am.” It also appointed Delhi High Court Justice (retired) S P Garg as the observer of the selection, along with an officer from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
When contacted, Justice Garg confirmed that he will be at the venue on Saturday. “I will oversee the selection process,” he said.
Giving details about the fresh “selection”, advocate B S Nagar for the petitioner, former India international Mahipal Singh, said, “The game will be between the men and women players who represented India at the Asian Games and those who were not picked. They will be from those who attended the national camp. It (the order) doesn’t say that the people who were part of the Asian Games team have to compulsorily participate, but it is left to the good conscience of the players.”
Nagar suspects that the India players might try to wriggle out of the game. “On August 31, the players said that this upcoming match is affecting their reputation and that they are injured and what not. They were trying to delay it (the match), saying that it isn’t their fault anyway. They (the Asian Games teams) are afraid that the unknowns might beat them.”
Shortly after the kabaddi teams for the Asian Games were announced, Mahipal approached the High Court with
allegations of bribery in the Asian Games selection process. AKFI has for long been headed by veteran politician Janardan Singh Gehlot, and its present president is his wife, Mridul Bhadauria. Gehlot is now the president of the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF).
By the time Mahipal approached the HC, AKFI had already announced the Asian Games teams and the court decided that a match should take place to determine the veracity of the allegations after the event.
The HC has placed the onus on the AKFI to ensure that the Saturday selection has pan-India representation. “It is the responsibility of the AKFI to ensure that all State Kabaddi Associations inform the players about the date, time and venue of the selection process.”
It further states that “the entire selection process shall be videographed and the recording thereof shall be preserved by the Sports Association of India and a copy thereof be placed before this court as well. So far as the appointment of the selector is concerned, the selection process shall be conducted by three selectors, who shall be appointed by the Secretary of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports”.
Top AKFI officials and several India players, who were part of the Asian Games squad, The Indian Express contacted were unavailable or declined to comment on the issue. One AKFI official, on condition of anonymity, stated: “The Honourable High Court has said nothing about a ‘match’, but only mentioned ‘selection process’.”
But, according to Nagar: “The selection process of the Asian Games team was improper and unfair as deserving players were not given an opportunity. Only after the match (on Saturday) will we be able to determine how the AKFI’s selection process was.”
The Indian men’s team at the Asian Games was upset by South Korea in the group stage and were then forced to settle for bronze after falling to Iran in the semi-finals. That loss ended India’s 28-year dominance in the Asian Games. The women’s team also lost in the final to Iran after winning gold in the 2010 and 2014 editions.