NEW DELHI: The Sports Ministry today intervened in the controversy surrounding team selection for the upcoming Asian Games, asking the Indian Olympic Association to reassess the criteria laid down by it and consider "specific relaxation of selection norms".
In the letter written to IOA President Narinder Batra, the ministry said that athletes and teams may be cleared if there is a strong possibility of either winning a medal in the Asian Games or finishing in the top four.
The IOA had said that it followed the criteria of top six finish in individual events and top eight in team sports for selection in the Indian contingent for the Asian Games. The IOA's criteria were akin to a circular of the ministry issued in 2015 for selection of team for multi-sporting events.
"This Ministry has framed those guidelines for sending entries of athletes/teams for participation in multidisciplinary events like the Asian Games (on March 10, 2015). However, of late, there has been concerns raised from various quarters ... that many deserving sportspersons/teams are not able to participate due to their inability to meet the above guidelines because of various reasons, inter-alia, due to less exposure in tournaments, restrictive spread, etc," the Ministry said in the letter.
"Accordingly, a view has emerged in this Ministry that specific relaxation of the norms prescribed may be considered by this Ministry purely on merits to allow sending of entries of teams/athletes for such sports disciplines which are otherwise not eligible for participation in the Asian Games, 2018, to be held in Indonesia in the larger interest of sports and sportspersons," it added.
The Ministry said the IOA, in consultation with the concerned National Sports Federations, may reassess the decisions taken by them for sending entries of teams for the Asian Games.
"... (they) may reassess the decisions taken by them and send their recommendations, if any in respect of sports disciplines which are not eligible for participation in the Asian Games, but can be considered for participation in light of the fact that individual athlete/team, performing consistently well during the last six months, but couldn't qualify due to lack of enough exposure or participation in ranking events and hence has a strong possibility of either winning a medal in Asian Games or finishing in top four.
"Based on the recommendations of the IOA, the Ministry may consider including sports discipline(s)/athletes as part of the Indian contingent for the Asian Games 2018," the ministry said.
A top IOA official said the top brass will meet in a day or two to take a decision on the ministry proposal.
"We have received the ministry letter and we will have a meeting tomorrow or day after. It is late to make further recommendations, nonetheless we will take a decision on the ministry proposal. Even if we do something, everything will now depend on whether the Asian Games Organising Committee will accept it or not," the official told PTI.
Official sources in the ministry said that the proposal was made as the government wanted performing athletes to take part in the Asian Games.
"But the judgement is left to the IOA and the NSFs," the source said on condition of anonymity.
"In 2015 and even earlier, such guidelines were issued to NSFs where criterion of 6th place in individual and and 8th for team were proposed. This time, more flexibility was provided by the clause that even if the athlete or the team does not meet the criterion but the NSF is convinced of top 4 finish, then they can propose them for selection with well laid down justification," the source added.
The IOA had announced a 524-member contingent earlier this month but it was not without controversy beginning from the leaving out of football, to the dropping of the entire four-member triathlon team for furnishing "misleading information".
The IOA then dropped 20 athletes from the Pencak Silat team, alleging fake credentials, prompting the national federation to threaten legal action. The men's handball team was cleared after the federation knocked the doors of Allahabad High Court.
In the original squad announced by IOA, six Sambo athletes - two male and four female - were included but the number was then cut down to just one.