KOCHI: In a major setback to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the Kerala High Court on Friday directed the sports body to ensure the participation of P U Chitra in the 1,500 metre race at the IAAF World Championships to be held in London from August 4 to 13.
The court issued the directive to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Athletics Federation of India and AFI Selection Committee chairman G S Randhawa, and asked them to take steps forthwith. The materials on record revealed Kerala athlete Chitra has been sidelined and discriminated. “Opportunities of instant nature will come in the way of athletes only once in a lifetime and, if they miss the chance, they may not get it again,” the Court observed. “The materials on record show Chitra is an outstanding athlete representing India in the event,” the court said.
Chitra, who struck gold in the 1,500 m track event in the Asian Athletics Championships, was excluded from the Indian team citing her timings for the event were not close to the standards fixed by the sports body. According to AFI, the timings of the petitioner for the event at the Asian Championships were 4 minutes and 17.92 seconds and the entry standards fixed for the IAAF World Championships was 4 minutes and 07 seconds. “It’s true the best timing of the petitioner is less by 10 seconds going by the standards fixed. But, it is seen many persons who are nowhere close to the standards fixed for the IAAF World Championships have been included in the Indian team,” the court noted.
The entry standard for 5,000 m race for men is 13 minutes, 22 seconds, whereas the best timing of G Lakshmanan, who is participating in the event representing India, is only 14 minutes, 54.48 seconds, which is less than almost two minutes. Likewise, the entry standards for 10,000 m race is 27 minutes, 47 seconds, whereas the best timing of G Lakshmanan, who is contesting in the event, is 29 minutes, 55.87 seconds, which is less than 3 minutes.
“The difference in Chitra’s case is only 10 seconds. Of course, Chitra’s event is 1,500 m, while that of Lakshmanan is 5,000 m and 10,000 m race. It reveals Chitra has been discriminated against,” the court observed.
Chitra submitted the decision of the Athletic Federation of India was illegal. An athlete who secured first place in any area of championship automatically qualifies to represent India at the World Championships, irrespective of whether her performance has reached the entry standards in the event.
Though the counsel for AFI sought time to file a counter affidavit, the court rejected it. The AFI said though she had qualified for the world championships, she was not considered as her timing in the competition in the Guntur meet was below the timing set by her in the Asian Athletic Championship held in July 2017 in Bhubaneswar. Besides, the AFI had instructed all the athletes they must participate in the Guntur event and those failing to perform up to the IAAF qualifying standards would not be considered for selection to the world championship.
‘Unfair selection procedure’
The court stated the participation in the championship at Guntur was not the criteria and the performance at the championship was only a ruse to exclude Chitra and similarly placed. Hence, the procedure adopted for selection was unfair. The statements by the AFI president with regard to the selection were made without any bona fide.
The govt role
According to the Central Government, the National Sports Development Code indicated the AFI is primarily responsible for selection of national teams for participation in major international events. The government is not directly involved in the selection of the athletes. The entire expenses, including passage cost and boarding and lodging, are being borne by the organisers.
The HC noted two athletes Swapna Barman and G Lakshmanan, who did not participate in the championships at Guntur, have been included in the Indian team. The vague explanation cited for including Swapna Barman in the team is she performed the event in difficult condition. In the case of G Lakshmanan, the reason cited was that he participated in the Guntur meet for 5,000 m race, and he was not included in the team for 10,000 m in the world championships. But, the AFI website says he is going to participate in the 10,000 m race too, the order stated.