The Delhi High Court on Friday expressed hope that the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) would increase the quota of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) in Commonwealth Games participation so that high jumper Tejaswin Shankar and other athletes could take part in the event.
While hearing a plea by Shankar challenging his exclusion from participating in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the high court observed that an athlete has a career of only 4-5 prime years and they must be given maximum opportunities during this period.
"Suffice it to state that this court is hopeful that IOA would increase the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) quota so that all five additionally selected athletes are included in the CWG contingent," Justice Jasmeet Singh said.
Shankar, in his plea, has sought to direct the AFI not to disqualify him from participating at the CWG 2022 based on non-attendance at the Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships, and be allowed to participate based on having met the qualifying standard at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships.
The court also allowed the plea to implead IOA as a party to the petition and issued notice to it, asking it to respond by the next date of the hearing.
During the hearing, advocate Parth Goswami, representing AFI, informed the court that the selection committee held a meeting on June 22 and selected five additional athletes subject to the increase of quota by the IOA.
He said the committee has recommended the names of five more athletes, including Shankar, for participation in the games, and if the IOA agrees to increase the quota of AFI from the existing 36 athletes, these five would also be included in the contingent. In case the quota is not increased, the list of previously selected athletes will be final, he said.
When the court enquired whether Shankar will be included if the quota is increased, Goswami responded in the affirmative. The court also made it clear that if the quota is not increased, it cannot direct IOA to do the same.
The judge also observed, "An athlete has a career of four to five prime years, he/ she should be given maximum opportunity... If it was in my hand I would have sent everyone."
The court on June 22 had directed the AFI's selection committee to consider on merits the case of Shankar. It had said that Shankar's non-participation in the Inter-State championships shall not be the sole criteria for rejecting him and observed that he is a "medal prospect" and there should not be an ego issue.
It had sought a response of the AFI, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, and AFI's selection committee on the petition.
AFI's counsel had earlier informed the court that the final list of athletes has already been prepared and submitted to (IOA).
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan and advocate Malak Bhatt, representing Shankar, had submitted that he has been excluded despite being the national high jump record holder (2.29m) and being the only Indian to have met the AFI qualification standard of 2.27m with a jump of 2.27m as recently as June 10, 2022, while winning a gold medal at the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championship 2022 in Eugene, Oregon in the USA.
The plea stated that Shankar is also part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) for the last two years which is a flagship Olympic development scheme under the Ministry of Sports and has been receiving a scholarship for the same.
The counsel had said Shankar had sought exemption from Inter-State championships as they clashed with the NCAA championship and had informed the chief national coach through WhatsApp messages.
"The petitioner is at present, indisputably, the best Indian high jumper in the world, and on the basis of current form is undoubtedly a medal contender at the CWG 2022. In fact, only two high jumpers (both non-Indian) who will prospectively be competing at the CWG 2022 have a better jump than him this year," the counsel had submitted.