The judge was appointed an observer by the Delhi High Court after questions were raised over the Asiad selection process.
New Delhi: India’s dismal showing in kabaddi at the 2018 Asian Games has thrust the sport into a bizarre turn of events that began with a rival faction raising a stink over the way the official selectors picked the national men’s and women’s squad.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) conducted Saturday trials to pick a new ‘national team’, which will take on the squad that represented India at Asiad to see if the selectors indeed picked the best team.
The exercise was overseen by a retired high court judge, a first for the Indian judiciary, under the orders of the Delhi High Court.
In a few weeks, Justice S.P. Garg (Retired), who admittedly has no knowledge of the sport, will submit a report to the Delhi High Court on whether the selection process for Asiad was fair and transparent.
On Saturday, he spent over 10 hours at the Indira Gandhi Stadium overseeing the selection process.
“This is a new experience for me,” he told ThePrint, “I don’t follow the game much.”
The judiciary stepped in after an organisation called the New Kabaddi Federation of India (NKFI) questioned the Asiad selection process conducted by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), which is recognised by SAI.
Before the 2018 Asian Games began in Jakarta on 18 August, the “sham selection process” was brought to the notice of the high court by former India kabaddi captain and Arjuna awardee Honnappa C. Gowda and former India player S. Rajarathinam.
Apart from making allegations of impropriety against AKFI officials, the players said the entire selection process was “eyewash”, adding that “backdoor” entrants were allowed in by antedating emails sent to the Indian Olympic Association.
Both sides – the petitioners and the sports ministry – deployed high-profile lawyers. While the petitioners were represented by Madhvi Divan and B.S. Nagar, the government brought in senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, apart from half a dozen others.
Since the Indian contingent was all set to leave for Jakarta, the Delhi High Court did not issue a stay. However, it called for a fresh selection process after the Jakarta tournament and appointed an “observer” to oversee the trials.
The high court also directed the sports ministry to appoint three selectors to pick the squad.
Apart from an honorarium of Rs 1 lakh, the AKFI will bear all expenses of the court-appointed observer, including conveyance, secretarial assistance, the high court said.
Justice Mittal, who headed the bench that passed the order, has since been transferred, and the case is now listed before Chief Justice Rajendra Menon for 30 October.
Confusion at the trials
Meanwhile, according to officials present at Saturday’s trials, the players were confused whether the selection was only for one match against the Asian Games squad or for the national team.
However, neither the court observer nor SAI had any clarity on this issue. “This will have to be clarified by the court in the next hearing,” AKFI secretary Dinesh Patel said.
“We don’t know if the observer will take a call on this issue,” he added.