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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Explainer: The selection row threatening to divide Kabbadi in India

Disappointment at the Asian Games in August has only highlighted a selection row behind the scenes that is set for time in the courtroom

India's kabaddi teams, for the first time in the 28-year history of the Asian Games, missed out on the men's and women's gold medals in Jakarta, Indonesia in August.

The shock results can be linked to a malaise on the administration side within the traditional powerhouse of the sport.

To make matters worse, nearly three weeks later on Saturday, the Indian governing body became a dubious party to a first of sorts as the judiciary had to witness a selection game in New Delhi.

That event, too, ended in a state of confusion making matters more messy with the situation unlikely to get any more clean any time soon.

Here is an explainer of the story so far.

Background

The sport is administered by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) and was under Janardhan Singh Gehlot as its president for an uninterrupted period of 28 years. When the government introduced a Sports Code in 2013 stopping officials from holding a post for more than eight years - something that also affected the Indian cricket board – the veteran politician Gehlot was replaced by his wife Mridul Bhadoria.

The High Court gets involved

On August 16, a day before the team were to leave for the Asian Games, the Delhi High Court intervened on a complaint by some former players owing allegiance to rival faction New Kabaddi Federation of India (NKFI), claiming bribery in the selection process.

Since it was too late for a recall, the court decided that a match should take place to determine the veracity of the allegations after the Asian Games.

According to Clause 9 of the order from the court, the AKFI was told to “conduct a selection process which shall commence from 15th September 2018.”

It also appointed retired judge SP Garg as an observer of the selection. Irrespective of the result, it was decided that the benefits of any medals and participation in the Games for the players will be put on hold.

Jakarta shock

The seven-time gold medallists India were stunned by South Korea and then lost the semi-final to Iran and had to settle for bronze. Media reports said India had focused on the attack too much, and the squad was light on quality defenders.

In the women's section, India lost to Iran and finished with silver, with the Iranians being coached by Indian Shailaja Jain as coach.

Rebel camp

Meanwhile, the petitioners went to work even before the Jakarta setback. A month-long camp was organised in Bengaluru by the rival NKFI. The AKFI, instructed by the court to spread the word about the "selection process", put out a general call for all players to assemble in New Delhi only two days before September 15.

Reality check

On Saturday, the players from NKFI came into the hall at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Centre for the selection process event.

The venue, divided into two halves, had a contrasting view on the other side. Representing the AKFI were junior players and some Under 19 girls mostly from the region around Delhi. None of the senior players from the Asian Games squad were in sight.

Only one official, assistant secretary Deoraj Chaturvedi, was present.

The interpretation game

"My job was to get referees and look after arrangements and I have done that,” Chaturvedi said.

Chaturvedi maintained that he was asked to facilitate the selection process as per the court order and he has done that without any clear idea on what the exercise was for. And since the purpose was unknown, Chaturvedi said the AKFI did not ask the Asian Games players to be present specifically.

When the petitioners’ lawyer Bharat Nagar was asked that nowhere in the court order it is stated that senior India teams need to come for selection trials, he replied: “Well that’s an interpretation. We will submit our prayer that we came for trials but Indian team didn’t turn up.”

Court nominee Garg also remain tight-lipped while making notes of the proceedings. “I cannot interpret court orders, please. I am here for the selection trials and I will file a report,” the retired judge said, while also conceding he does not know much about the sport.

Garg is in charge as the court has also stayed the appointment of AKFI president Ms Bhadoria.

What next?

Justice Gita Mittal, who headed the bench that passed the order, has since been transferred. The case is now listed before Chief Justice Rajendra Menon for 30 October. But, according to Nagar, a petition for contempt of court against the AKFI will be filed with urgency before that.