Oct 15, 2023 17:23 UTC
Oct 16, 2023 at 05:44 UTC
Case Study: Sushil Kumar v. Union of India & Ors
“National Sports Federations have full autonomy in determination of the selection of athletes for events, provided they are fair and transparent.”
CITATION: (2016) 230 DLT 42
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 6th June, 2016
BENCH: JUSTICE MANMOHAN
Sushil Kumar, (the petitioner) is a two-time Olympic medallist in Men’s Freestyle Wrestling in the 66 kg division. Narsingh Yadav (Respondent no. 5) was selected to represent India in the 74 kg division by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) (Respondent no. 4) at the Rio Olympic Games 2016, commencing on 5th August, 2016. Narsingh was selected on the basis of his performance at the World Championship 2015 held at Las Vegas in September 2015, where he secured the bronze medal. Sushil Kumar wished to compete in the 74 kg division at Rio Olympics, 2016 as the 66 kg division in which he played was abolished in January 2014. He demanded that a trial be held between him and Narsingh Yadav to determine who shall be offered the opportunity to represent India at the event. Earlier, Sushil Yadav had not participated in the trial for selection of the athlete to represent India at the World Championship 2015 and pleaded that his absence from the trial was due to him nursing an injury. The claim by Sushil Kumar was disputed both by WFI and Narsingh Yadav.
The court disallowed the prayer of Sushil Kumar for a trial on grounds that it was untenable both in law as well as the facts. The writ petition and the application were dismissed.
The court remarked in para 60: “In international arena of sports, medals are won not only by “brawn” but also by “brain”. The last minute challenge to selection can disturb the mental preparation of the selected. Consequently, a sportsperson innocently asking for “just a trial” may be jeopardizing the chances of the selected candidate to win, having disastrous consequences for national interest. In the duel asked for, the country will be the loser.”
- Can a Court exercising writ jurisdiction interfere into the selection procedure of a National Sport Federation (NSF)?
Relying on the judgment of the Coordinate Bench of Delhi High Court in Shumel vs. Union of India & Ors., the court held that:
“Having heard the learned counsel for parties, this Court is of the view that the decision who should represent India in a sporting event is best left to the experts i.e. the concerned National Sports Federation.”
The Court examined the policy of Government of India which lays down that the National Sports Federations must be granted the maximum autonomy concerning the affairs of their respective sport. In this light, the court laid down that it shall not interfere in the exercise of discretion of the National Sports Federation unless there is incontrovertible proof on record to show that such discretion was “exercised in an arbitrary or capricious or perverse manner or contrary to settled principles or practices.”
- Does the WFI violate the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 by refusing to conduct the trial demanded by Sushil Kumar (Petitioner) against the qualified athlete, Narsingh Yadav (Respondent No. 4)?
The National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 grants complete autonomy and full flexibility to WFI to decide its process for the selection of athletes for wrestling events and when to hold such trials. Thus, the Court held that, “This Court is also of the view that the Code, 2011 does not restrict or impinge upon the autonomy or discretion of the National Sports Federations to select athletes/wrestlers to represent India in international sporting events. The Code, 2011 does not make it mandatory for respondent no. 4-WFI to hold trials for selection of wrestlers for Olympics just two to three months prior to the event. The Code, 2011 only obligates the National Sports Federations to judiciously select players to represent India on merit for major international events with the objective of enhancing national prestige and bringing glory to the country. The Code, 2011 gives full flexibility and autonomy to respondent no. 4-WFI to decide the process of selection and when to hold a trial. It only stipulates that if selection trials are required, they should be held two months in advance.”
- Does the selection procedure adopted by WFI in the given case qualify the ‘fair and transparent’ test?
In the opinion of the court the procedure adopted by WFI for selection of Narsingh Yadav for Rio Olympics 2016 was fair and transparent. In arriving such conclusion, the chief reason is attributed to the fact that Narsingh Yadav secured bronze medal at World Wrestling Championship which was a much tougher competition than Olympics.
The court notes. “The contention of respondent no. 4-WFI that the World Wrestling Championship is a tougher competition than even the Olympics is significant. In the World Wrestling Championship 117 countries participate with 40-50 wrestlers in the 74 kg. category, whereas in the Olympics only 30-35 countries participate and there are 19 wrestlers in the 74 kg. category.”
- Does the process adopted by WFI to select the athlete for representation in Olympics who has won the berth for India to represent in Olympics can be termed as perverse and unreasonable?
The court examined this question and explicitly laid down in the judgment that the
“PRACTICE THAT A WRESTLER WHO HAS EARNED THE BERTH FOR THE COUNTRY WILL REPRESENT IT, IS NEITHER PERVERSE NOR CONTRARY TO CODE, 2011.”
The relevant portion of the judgment enumerating the reasons are reproduced below:
“49. The selection procedure followed by the respondent no.4-WFI i.e. the wrestler who has earned the berth for the country will represent the country, does not show any element of perversity or anomaly in the instant case as the said practice has been followed by respondent no.4-WFI uniformly and consistently.
50. The said practice cannot also said to be contrary or in violation of Code, 2011. Even the Union of India in its counter-affidavit has recommended this interpretation of the Code, 2011. The relevant portion of the affidavit of Union of India is reproduced herein below:-
“5. …….After Olympics berths have been earned, it is for the concerned NSF to decide whether it deems fit to hold a selection trial or to nominate the individual sportsperson who has earned quota place in Olympics for the country.”
51. The fact that some countries in the world follow the practice of holding trials four to three months prior to the Olympics does not mean that the same policy must be followed by all the National Sports Federations. There is always more than one good method of selection. Since the process of selection adopted by respondent no. 4-WFI is not arbitrary or perverse, this Court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the experts.”
 W.P.(C) 5034/2010
 Para 36, Sushil Kumar V. Union Of India & Ors (2016) 230 DLT 42
 “Even the stand of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Sports Authority of India is that they do not interfere with the selection process as the National Sports Federations are autonomous organisations.” Para 40
 “Keeping in view the aforesaid, this Court is of the view that a writ Court will not interfere in the exercise of discretion of the National Sports Federation and substitute its own judgment except where the discretion is shown to have been exercised in an arbitrary or capricious or perverse manner or contrary to settled principles or practices.” Para 41, Sushil Kumar V. Union Of India & Ors (2016) 230 DLT 42
 Para 43, Sushil Kumar V. Union Of India & Ors (2016) 230 DLT 42
 Para 45, Sushil Kumar V. Union Of India & Ors (2016) 230 DLT 42