top of page

Asian Games, 2018 and the Futility of Courts in Selection-Trial Disputes

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

- Sarthak Sood*


The Asian Games, 2018 came to close recently with the Indian contingent raking up sixty-nine medals.[1]Fortunately, for the Indian Olympic Association (‘IOA’) and the National Sports Federation (‘NSF’), this tally does not betray the chaos that reigned until a week before the Games began. Finalizing the Indian contingent for the Games spawned around ten litigations,[2] which largely fell into two categories- one, sportspersons suing NSFs for botched up selection trials, and two, NSFs suing the IOA for non-inclusion of the sport in the contingent.[3]

I will limit my discussion here to the issue of selection trial litigations. The Asian Games, 2018 gave rise to an unprecedented number of these,[4] and yet this is not the first occasion that sportspersons have taken NSFs to court over botched up selection-trials. I submit that there is a running theme throughout the history of selection-trial litigations – that they tend to be inconsequential for the sportspersons because courts simply do not have enough time and expertise.

In this post, I shall first explain why the selection-trial litigations in traditional courts tend to be inconsequential. I shall focus on the two broad factors limiting the traditional courts- one, the structure of modern sport which is built on ‘autonomy’ of the NSF, and two, the structure of the court system which makes it unfit for sport-disputes. Then, I shall explain why sportspersons still keep coming back to the courts despite the futility of traditional litigation – primarily because of the absence of an efficacious alternative.

I. Limitations of traditional courts

I posit here that India’s traditional courts, more specifically, the High Courts exercising their writ jurisdiction are structurally ill equipped to handle selection disputes between the NSFs and the players for two broad reasons. One, courts have a limited power to interfere with the workings of NSFs and the IOA. Two, even where the courts decide that they can interfere, as in the case of selection disputes, court litigation amounts to naught due to the strict timelines involved.

A. Writ Jurisdiction v. Autonomy of NSFs

Even though the High Courts have held that selection disputes fall under their writ jurisdiction,[5] we must understand that there is very little that a High Court can actually do in a selection trial litigation given that they cannot violate the autonomy of NSFs.

In order to understand this point, we first need to appreciate the structure of modern sport post the Olympic Movement. At the top of this structure rests the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) with the Olympic Charter as its primary instrument of governance. The Olympic Movement organizes various events, for example, the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics, the Asian Games, etc. All the sports which feature in these events have their own International Federations (‘IF’), FIFA for football, for example. These IFs are recognized by the IOC,[6] and have as their members NSFs, one recognized federation from each country; FIFA’s member from India is the All India Football Federation (‘AIFF’). Furthermore, the IOC recognizes one body in each country to represent the Olympic Movement; this body is called the National Olympic Committee (‘NOC’).[7] The NSF for an Olympic sport also needs to be affiliated to the NOC. Within this structure, each unit is bound by the rules and principles of the unit above it. As such, for all Olympic sports, the Olympic Charter is the supreme document.

Chart 1: The structure of modern sport post the Olympic Movement.

I argue that the twin barriers of ‘autonomy’ and ‘expertise’ keep the courts from affecting or rectifying botched-up selection trials.

The Olympic Charter lists ‘autonomy’ as the one of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism:[8]

Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society,[9] sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.

Given this fact, excessive state interference in the workings of national SFs can lead to their being blacklisted from Olympic events for violation of the Olympic Charter.

There is a long history of courts trying to determine the extent of their powers, in the sense of judicial review, over sports governance bodies (‘SGB’).[10] They have largely concluded that their jurisdiction is limited to proper enforcement of the rules of the SGB,[11] and in rare cases, judging the veracity of the rules themselves against the standard of fairness.[12] The courts justify the interference in the latter case by arguing the sportsperson’s right to livelihood.[13] Given these principles, in selection disputes, we see that the courts restrict themselves to testing whether the selection trials were held as per the rules or not. The courts express reluctance in judging the selection criteria on their merits due to the barrier of ‘expertise’.[14] The court does not have the expertise to judge the merits of the selection criteria or even of that matter, the constitution of the selection panel and the timing of the selection trials.[15] Consequently, the court is left with a very limited range of remedies available to it. The twin barrier of ‘expertise’ and ‘autonomy’ keep the court from making sweeping structural changes to the selection process. The only thing left to the court is ordering re-trials if it is found that the existing selection rules were not followed properly.

On the face of it, an order for re-trials might seem like an adequate remedy, but in most cases, it proves to be inconsequential. I discuss this in detail in the next section.

B. Court Litigation as a zero-sum

Selection trial cases pose some very specific limitations to the proceedings.

First, selection trial litigations tend to happen too close to the last date for team submissions, leaving the sportsperson and the court with little room to maneuver.[16] In Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, the Delhi High Court criticised last-minute challenges to selections because in international sports, “medals are won not only by brawn but also by brain”,[17] meaning that holding re-trials at a late stage can be detrimental to the morale of the athletes, compromising their chances of winning accolades. On several occasions have courts refrained from interfering with the selections made by the NSFs by citing, among other reasons, the possibility of affecting the morale and spoiling the preparation of the team/athlete.[18]

Second, limitation courts face in selection-trial disputes is their time-bound nature. We need to understand that the organizing committee of the event, herein being the Asian Games Organizing Committee (AGOC), decides the last date for team submissions.[19] Indian courts have no power to change this date, and if the IOA submits participation details after this date, to accept such submissions is entirely the discretion of the organizing committee. The IOA and NSFs often make this argument in selection trial disputes.[20] The Asian Games, 2018 litigations contain multiple examples of court orders amounting to naught due to them coming several days after the last date of team submissions. In the case of Taekwondo, for example, the AGOC rejected the three names sent to it after the last date (June 30, 2018).[21] These three names had been selected by a one-man committee formed by the Delhi High Court after six taekwondo players moved the court alleging that the Taekwondo Federation of India had picked the squad without holding trials.[22] Similarly, the Yachting trials litigations provide another worrying example of this trend.[23] Therefore, traditional courts can be powerless even where they wish to interfere with the selections.

The Delhi High Court has tried to improvise in the face of precisely the two limitations discussed above. Having found the selection process for the Asian Games, 2018 Kabaddi team to be rife with irregularities, the HC has ordered the Kabaddi team to undergo post-Games trials for the rewards and benefits (eg. Government jobs) which come with participation in such events.[24] This measure, while well intentioned, fails to tackle the primary problem, which is regarding selection for the games, not post-games benefits.[25] These court-ordered post-event trials also proved to be a damp squib in the face of administrative apathy and an apparent loophole in the Delhi HC’s order.[26]

Another implication of the time-bound nature of such litigations is that Indian courts are simply not speedy enough. Given the huge backlog of cases, it is extremely tough for litigants to find a desirable spot on the daily cause-lists.[27] They are therefore forced to take the ‘urgent mentioning’ route.[28] Once they get a chance to be heard, the litigation does not end in a day. The Varsha Gautam case, for instance, took over ten hearings.[29] The Asian Games litigations are replete with examples of HC judges working overtime to ensure speedy resolution.[30] However, such ad hoc measures, although appreciated, are indicators of a system normally unfit for a speedy resolution, creating the need for ad hoc measures. Another issue here is that allowing urgent mentioning and sitting over-time lies at the discretion of the judges. The better the lawyering, the greater the chances of judges exercising such discretions. This creates an inequality in the system where speedy justice is given to either those sportspersons who can afford renowned lawyers or those who can get a renowned lawyer to take their case pro bono. The latter category is akin to an ad hoc system, the existence of which indicates a system normally unfit for selection-trial cases.

C. Selection Trials and the National Sports Code, 2011

I had noted earlier that the principles of autonomy and expertise prevent courts from interfering with the decisions of NSFs and SGBs. I have also noted that often the courts are rendered powerless in selection-trial litigations because these trials take place too close to the event and the subsequent cases cut too close to the submission deadline. The National Sports Development Code, 2011 (‘NSC’) and the jurisprudence around it illustrate both these assertions.

The NSC lays down standards an NSF must follow if it wants to be eligible to government support.[31] It lays down a set of standards for selection trials as well. However, perhaps as a nod to the autonomy of the NSFs, the NSC selection-trials rules leave a lot to the discretion of the NSFs as far as selections are concerned.[32] One of the things the NSC leaves to the NSFs is the timing of the trials. Some federation might have the trial of a tournament a year in advance while others might delay them until the eleventh hour. In addition, the courts are unlikely to adjudicate on the timing of the trials because of the barrier of ‘expertise’, as can be seen from the Delhi HC’s decision in Sushil Kumar.

II. Why Indian Sportspersons are forced to approach the Courts: Absence of an Efficacious alternative

Given that selection-trial litigations reap no benefits and that court litigations in India are generally a hassle, a question arises as to why Indian sportspersons repeatedly move the courts. I posit that the sporting structure in India does not provide its sportspersons with any efficacious internal mechanism[33] for resolving any disputes they may have with their NSFs, leading to their approaching the Court system. To elaborate, I will discuss here the various dispute-resolution options provided by the IOA and the NSFs and explain how none of them is efficacious.

The IOA Memorandum of Association provides that the IOA “shall constitute the following commission as per the Olympic Charter…

b. Arbitration Commission- Detail at Annexure ‘B’”.[34]

Except that the “Annexure B” is nowhere to be found on the IOA website. Till September 17, 2018, the ‘Documents’ tab[35] on the IOA website only contained links to IOA’s Constitution and the rules for the Ethics Commission. However, sometime between September 17 and October 12, 2018, the IOA now uploaded the ‘Arbitration Commission Rules’ and ‘Disputes Commission Rules’. Two things must be noted - one, the Constitution which contains a reference to an ‘Arbitration Commission’ with its details in the missing Annexure B claims to have been amended up to December 8, 2013. Therefore, an IOA Arbitration Commission has supposedly been in existence since 2013. Two, all throughout the pre-Asian Games kerfuffle which started in June right up till October of 2018, the IOA website only had the names of the members of the Arbitration Commission,[36] but no documentation laying down any procedure or guidance on approaching and the working of the same. It has also been said that sportspersons either do not know about it or simply prefer going to court,[37] which goes to show that the commission has been de facto defunct.

In spite of the fact that the Rules for the Arbitration Commission are now published, the very structure of the said Commission is problematic. An arbitration tribunal, to be fair, must be free from bias. The test of IOA’s Arbitration Commission lies in how free is it from the NSFs susceptible to face proceedings against sportspersons at the Arbitration Commission.[38] The IOA Arbitration Tribunal is formed by the President but ratified by the IOA Executive Council (EC) or the Annual General Meeting (AGM) or Special General Meeting (SGM).[39] In both the EC and the AGM/SGM, the voting majority consists of the “the votes cast by National Federations affiliated to the International Federations governing sports included in the program of the Olympic Games as laid down in the Olympic Charter” failing which the meeting is adjourned.[40] This, I argue, gives NSFs too much say in the composition of the Commission. Given that its Rules have been published only recently, we would have to wait and watch whether it gains the trust of the sportspersons as the tribunal of their choice.

The NSFs are in an even worse state. The NSC, in effect since January 31, 2011, requires all recognized NSFs to set up grievance redressal mechanisms for sportspersons.[41] And yet, in 2016, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (‘MYAS’) had to come out with an advisory asking NSFs to provide in their constitutions/bye-laws “an effective, transparent and fair grievance redressal system and mechanism… for expeditious settlement of any disputes arising between the sportspersons and/or support personnel and its various committees constituted for any special task.”[42] Both the NSC and the 2016 Advisory suffer from the same flaw- neither set a timeline for the NSFs.[43] As such, NSFs do not seem to have taken note of either.[44] A 2016 article recognized AIFF, with a detailed constitution and rules, as one end of the spectrum, the other end of which is WFI. Neither of the two has acted on the 2016 Advisory. Instead, the constitutions of both the Federations provides for disciplinary and ethics commissions.[45] The functioning of these commissions entails the Federation being a position of power over the sportsperson. These do not give the sportsperson any way to raise grievances against the Federation.

Thus, we see that neither the NSFs nor the IOA provides Indian sportspersons with any viable sport-specific dispute settlement or grievance redressal mechanism to ensure speedy justice. Consequently, we see today, as we have seen over the years, sportspersons approaching the courts with their grievances, and courts finding themselves unable to ensuring ex-ante justice.

III. Conclusion

I have tried to establish that there exists a problem to which there is no efficacious solution under the legal remedies presently available. The problem is botched-up selection trials and the fact that those affected by these, the sportspersons, have no effective dispute resolution mechanism to speak of. Courts are ineffective as they are bound by the structure of the sporting world, which values its autonomy, and their own limitations in terms of speediness and accessibility. Within the autonomous walls of the sporting world, the IOA and its affiliates, the NSFs, seem not to be proactive about exercises in juridification of the sport. Over two years have passed since the MYAS brought out its circular, but most NSFs have still not taken note.

Nations like Canada and New Zealand have independent tribunals dedicated to resolving disputes arising in the sports sector.[46] These Tribunals have been designed keeping in mind the specific issues arising in sports disputes and have the jurisdiction to hear selection-trial disputes, among various others.[47]Perhaps it is time that India follows suit, considering that such disputes affect the livelihoods and aspirations of many of its citizens.

*Sarthak Sood is a 5th year student at West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. He would like to thank Dr. Lovely Dasgupta, Assistance Professor at WB NUJS, and Ms. Sregurupriya Ayappan and the editorial team at Socio-Legal Review for all their support.


[1] Amit Kamath, The stories behind India’s historic 69 medals at the 2018 Asian Games at Indonesia in graphics, Firstpost (September 5, 2018) available at

[2] Asian Games: Indian squad selections and the numerous court battles seeking justice, Scroll (August 3, 2018) available at; Nihal Koshie, Courting trouble before the Asian Games, The Indian Express (August 10, 2018) available at; Akshat Mehrish, A flawed selection process for the Asian Games?, The Bridge (August 04, 2018) available at

[3] Akshat Mehrish, id. (Handball and Traditional Boat Racing for example).

[4] Koshie, supra note 2 (Where IOA’s lawyer, Hemant Phalpher was quoted stating, “Before the previous edition of the Asian Games there were three-to-four cases, now it has increased nearly threefold. This number will only increase.”).

[5] Amit Kumar Dhankar v. Union of India, W.P. (C) 3914 of 2014 (Delhi High Court).

[6]See List of IOC recognised IFs available at

[7] Indian Olympic Association v. Union of India, (2014) 212 DLT 389 (Delhi High Court).

[8]IOC, The Olympic Charter, In force as from 16 September, 2017, p. 11, available at Furthermore, the Charter, in Rule 25, provides that “The statutes, practice and activities of the IFs within the Olympic Movement must be in conformity with the Olympic Charter”.

[9] See Stefan Szymanski, A Theory of the Evolution of Modern Sport (International Association of Sports Economists, Working Paper Series, No. 06-30, November 2006).

[10]See Ken Foster, The Juridification of Sport (2011) available at; Saurabh Bhattacharjee, Private and Yet Public: The Schizophrenia of Modern Sports and Judicial Review, 8 NUJS Law Review 153 (2015).

[11] I have taken a simplified view of the jurisprudence around the court’s power of judicial review over SGBs. This topic merits a whole paper to discuss. To understand and appreciate the complexities involved, See Saurabh Bhattacharjee, id.

[12] Nagle v. Fielding, [1966] 2 W.L.R. 1027; See also Aashna Mehrotra and Purvasha Mansharamani, The need for better dispute resolution systems in Indian sport and the Government’s new Guidelines LawInSport (November 21, 2016) available at (where the authors point out that most Indian NSFs lack written rules which makes it very hard for courts to judge them against standards of fairness. As an example, they point out that in Sushil Kumar v. Union of India it so happened that Wrestling Federation of India’s selection procedure was largely governed by tradition instead of codified rules).

[13] Nagle v. Fielding, id.

[14] Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, (2016) 230 DLT 427; Varsha Gautham v. Union of India, 2018 SCC Del 9741.

[15] Sushil Kumar, id.

[16] For example, the selection trials for women’s 49er FX, Double Handed Skiff for Asian Games, 2018 took place between 18th and 25th June, 2018 when the squad-submission deadline was 30th June, 2018, See Varsha Gautham v. Union of India, supra note 14; cf In Sushil Kumar, the trials took place a year before the tournament. To be fair, whether proper selection trials took place was one of the disputes in the case. Yet, the petitioner chose to move against the contingent selection when the tournament was looming close by. The broad reason for selection trial litigations taking place extremely close to the team-submission dates is that selection-trials and team announcements tend to happen close to the tournament, which is something completely at the discretion of the NSFs, See Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, supra note 14.

[17] See Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, supra note 14.

[18] Amit Kumar Dhankar; in the context of the Asian Games, 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of two middle distance runners, Prachi Choudhary and Chhavi Sahrawat concerning the selection of the relay team on the ground that “interference at this late stage would disturb the team’s combination and affect their performance”, See Asian Games: Indian squad selections and the numerous court battles seeking justice, Scroll (August 3, 2018) available at

[19] Olympic Council of Asia, Constitution and Rules, Art. 57, available at

[20] Dhandkar, supra note 5; The Yachting Association of India (‘YAI’) used “deadline” as an excuse to escape the responsibility of holding a retrial post the judgment in Varsha Gautham, See IOA asked to resolve Asiad sailing selection impassee after YAI expresses inability to hold re-trial, Scroll (August 1, 2018) available at

[21] S. Kannan, Asian Games 2018: Bad news for late taekwondo and boat entries, India Today (August 2, 2018), available at

[22] Press Trust of India, Asian Games: Delhi High Court asks sports ministry to review selection process for taekwondo, Scroll (July 27, 2018) available at; Mufeed Mahdi Rizvi, Asian Games 2018: Taekwondo squad runs into accreditation problems, PuneMirror (August 3, 2018) available at

[23] This is a long, controversy-riddled saga. Varsha Gautham filed a petition in the Delhi HC challenging the selections in the women’s 49er FX Skiff. In its order dated July 06, 2018, the HC refrained from interfering with the Yachting Association of India’s decision, but left it open for the petitioner to approach the IOA, given the final selection vested with the IOA. The IOA decided to select the petitioner. The YAI held a meeting with the petitioner in which the petitioner was threatened in barely couched language. The audio from this meeting ended up in the HC. Following which, the YAI, in an effort to mitigate damage, promised to hold re-trials in Jakarta. However, they did not get permission for the same as the venue was in lockdown for the Games and other contingents raised objections fearing that India would get an unfair advantage in terms of familiarity with the venue. Eventually, the HC left the decision to the IOA. See Abhinav Garg, Audio puts Yachting Association of India official in dock, The Times of India (July 15, 2018) available at; IOA asked to resolve Asiad sailing selection impasse after YAI expresses inability to hold re-trial, Scroll (August 01, 2018) available at

[24] Kaushal Shukla, Asian Games 2018: Delhi HC orders players of Indian kabaddi teams to prove merit in post-event ‘trial games’ to receive benefits, Firstpost (August 17, 2018) available at

[25] I recognise that the Kabaddi order came in a PIL, and not a writ filed by a disgruntled player. However, argument that ex-post trials do nothing for the players who might have rightfully been selected had the process been fair and properly implemented stands.

[26] Sumit Josh, Confusion Galore: Asian Games squads give ‘kabaddi trials’ a miss, The Quint (September 17, 2018) available at

[27]Kian Ganz, How cases move through different high courts, Livemint (August 26, 2015) available at

[28] Koshie, supra note 2.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Indian Olympic Association v. Union of India, supra note 7.

[32] NSC, 2011, R. 13.1- “NSFs are primarily responsible for judicious selection of national teams for participation in major international events bases on merit and with the objective of enhancing national prestige and bringing glory to the country.”

[33] By ‘internal mechanism’, I mean a tribunal which is conceptualized and operates within the Olympian autonomous sporting structure, free from the state. The Court of Arbitration for Sports (‘CAS’) provides a good analogy for this. CAS is the highest forum for international sports disputes. It is free from any state’s laws, where the arbitrations are paneled by experts in sports law.

[34] Indian Olympic Association, Memorandum and Rules and Regulations of the IOA, Pt. V.

[35] IOA, Documents, available at

[36] IOA, Arbitration Commission, available at

[37] Koshie, supra note 2.

[38] Case of Mutu and Pechstein c. Suisse, ECtHR, 40575/10 and 67474/10, decided on Oct. 2, 2018 (although the majority opinion in this case decided that CAS is adequately independent and impartial, the dissenting opinion by two judges is telling. They observe that International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), the body responsible for appointing one-fifth of CAS’s arbitrators was itself composed mainly of individuals affiliated with Sports Governing Bodies which were themselves susceptible to face proceedings against athletes in CAS); It is important to note that ECtHR’s upholding of the independence and impartiality of CAS has been rather criticized in the academia, See Antoine Duval, The “Victory” of the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights: The End of the Beginning for the CAS Asser International Sports Law Blog (October 10, 2018), available at; See also Antoine Duval, Not in my Name! Claudia Pechstein and the Post-Consensual Foundations of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (MPIL Research Paper Series No. 2017-01).

[39] Indian Olympic Association, Memorandum and Rules and Regulations of the IOA, Art. XVIII(3).

[40] Indian Olympic Association, Memorandum and Rules and Regulations of the IOA, Art. X(c), XI(d).

[41] NSC, 2011, R. 14.7(v).

[42] MYAS, Safeguarding the interest of sportspersons and provision of effective Grievance Redressal System in the Constitution of National Sport Federations, available at

[43] Mehrotra, supra note 12.

[44] Mehrotra, supra note 12.

[45] All India Football Federation Constitution, Arts. 54 to 56 (They deal with Arbitration, but instead of any internal mechanisms, they provide for an appeal to CAS against decisions of the AIFF); WFI Constitution, Art. XVII- General Disciplinary Regulations, Art. XIX- Disciplinary Committee and Art. XX- Disciplinary Sanctions (It has neither any provision for internal arbitration nor one for appeal to CAS, effectively leaving courts as the only possible remedy).

[46] Hilary Findlay and Marcus Mazzucco, Degrees of Intervention in Sport-Specific Arbitration: Are we Moving towards a Universal Model of Decision-Making, 2 Yearbook on Arbitration and Mediation 1-2 (2010).

[47]See Sports Tribunal of New Zealand, About the Sports Tribunal, available at (among the main types of disputes the Tribunal can hear is “appeals against decisions of National Sport Originations or the New Zealand Olympic Committee - mostly appeals against disciplinary decisions or not being selected for a New Zealand team”).

177 views1 comment

1 Kommentar

Nathan Adrian
Nathan Adrian
21. Nov. 2022

Good article. I not only love sports but also love sports games. If you have such an opportunity, then write an article on this site on the topic of modern computer games about sports. I am especially interested in computer football simulations.

Gefällt mir
bottom of page