HC paves way for three equestrians to participate in international tournaments which can be considered for selection

The Delhi High Court has allowed three players to participate in various international equestrian events, along with other selected candidates, leading up to the Asian Games in consideration for a spot in the national team. It also expressed its dismay at the lack of professionalism in the Equestrian Federation of India overseeing the participation of the players.

A single judge bench of Justice Gaurang Kanth in its March 7 decision, after perusing through the record, took the view that EFI had failed to show any documents to show that the new selection criteria (V4/V5) was issued by a duly constituted Selection Committee under Article 15 of the EFI Statute. The court also noted that the EFI failed to announce the new selection criteria one month in advance from the date of commencement of trials which was a requirement under the National Sports Development Code of India (NSDCI), terming the criteria as “void ab initio” (no legal effect).

The HC also noted that EFI changed the rules of qualification during the ongoing selection process denying equal opportunity to all the aspirants of 19th Asian Games. It also noted that the the Vice President (Finance) of EFI, despite having a major vested interest in the selection process, failed to disclose this fact before the EFI or the HC. It was argued that there was a conflict of interest as the VP’s son is engaged in leasing horses used in the upcoming Asian Games and hence there was a high chance of bias in selection.

“After examining the conduct of the EFI throughout the present proceedings, this Court is of the prima facie opinion that EFI succeeded in their vicious approach to eliminate the best candidates by acting in a completely capricious and arbitrary manner while discharging its responsibilities,” the HC said. To

Three players approached the high court challenging the new selection criteria as well as seeking permission to participate in international events and consider the said events as trials for the purpose of the potential selection of the players for the 19th Asian Games.

The HC said that EFI miserably failed in conducting the first stage of the selection process. Recognising that there was no time left to carry out the first stage all over again the HC said, “this Court is of the view that the interest of justice would be met if all the equestrians who participated in either of the selection process, i.e. V-3 or V-5 should now get equal opportunity to prove their merit. Needless to say, the horse-rider combination throughout the coaching camps and participation in FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) competitions has to be same…this Court directs EFI to allow all the equestrians who participated in either of the selection Process, i.e. V-3 or V-5 to attend the coaching camps and allow them to participate in the FEI competitions in which already selected Probables will be participating. This will give a sizable zone of consideration to the EFI to select the best equestrians who can bring glory to the country in the 19th Asian Games.”

The HC pulled up the EFI stating that it should “prioritize identifying and fostering the best talent in the country, without being muddled by hyper-technicality and personal vendettas against any candidate.”

“This Court is deeply saddened by the sorry state of affairs and the deplorable condition of professionalism amongst the representatives of the EFI. Instead of spending a considerable amount of energy and funds on prohibiting young sportsmen from entering the list of “probables,” the EFI should rather focus on improving its administration and chalking out a strategy to bag as many international laurels as possible. The present case seems to have become a David and Goliath contest, where an organization is using all its might to eliminate certain individuals from the competition…Athletes…are our national assets,” the HC said.

Emphasising on the hard work of the athletes in representing the country in an international forum the court said, “It is a proud moment for every Indian citizen to see our Athletes with Tricolour in their hand…It is the duty of the National Sports Federations to ensure that the selection process is conducted in a fair and transparent manner and the selection criterion are made known to all stakeholders well in advance. Any dilution to this process will not only shatter the dreams of these athletes, but every citizen of this country.”

Selection criteria muddle

The EFI had released an invitation notice for application on selection trials for three disciplines–dressing, show jumping and eventing in the equestrian sports category in view of Asian Games which were to be held in China in September last year.

The notice was released along with selection criteria (V-3) for the riders and horses of Indian Equestrian Team. The first selection trials as per the notice was to be conducted between September 1, 2021 and May 15 2022 on the basis of which candidates were to be selected to represent India in the 19th Asian Games. The result of these trials concerning sportspersons based in India was published on April 12, 2022 on EFI’s website. Later, the results of the trials concerning sport persons who participated from abroad was published on May 13, 2022.

The EFI published the selection criteria notice dated August 10, 2022 (V-4) laying down the selection criteria for riders and horses for selection in Indian Equestrian Team for the postponed 19th Asian Games. Through this notice, the trials already conducted were done away with and fresh trials were announced to be conducted between August 15, 2022 and February 15, 2023. The EFI again issued another notice on August 17, 2022 rectifying selection criteria V-4 and released selection criteria V-5.

The principal difference between selection criteria V3 vis-à-vis selection criteria V4/ V5 was with respect to dates and formats as well as the eligibility requirements for Horses and Riders, the court noted. There were certain new developments in the meantime wherein the horse-rider combination, which is considered as the basis for any equestrian sports was the basis for the selection process conducted by the EFI till date, was no longer available. Now only riders were selected who would have to form a new combination of horse-rider and to participate in the further selection process.

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