India was the only non-European team to be part of International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 1928 Olympics. This was the first Olympics for hockey to be played under the aegis of FIH and team India won the Gold. The Indian team remained invincible in the Olympics till 1960 and then came the downfall. The sport suffered because of the glamour and attention it received, and since then only in 2016, it could earn a silver medal. Now, Kabaddi seems to follow the same course. India lost its monopoly over the game in the 2018 Asiad losing to Iran in the semi-finals. An ancient sport in our country, Kabaddi was introduced to Asian Games programme in 1990. This was a game that would always bring home the Gold Medal. Since the inclusion of women in international kabaddi competitions, specifically in the Asian category in 1990 and the 2010 Asian Games, so far, India has earned 9 (7 men and 2 women) gold medals. There was no room for other countries to reach the top of the podium. But, in the 18th edition of the Asian Games in Indonesia, Iran has pushed forward in both categories.
India, which is the origin of Kabaddi and put the sport on the world map, now lags behind the newcomers. The reason is not incompetent players, it is corruption that follows the glamour of international championships. The debacle at Jakarta has left India stunned, but to the Kabaddi fraternity, this seemed coming. Two former players had filed a PIL earlier this year in the Delhi High Court seeking appointment of an interim committee to oversee the selection of players for the Asian Games, alleging fraud and nepotism.
Under the scanner is the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, which had been under the clutches of one family for 40 years, and had been functioning as a family enterprise. The final team for Kabaddi that represents India in international sporting events is selected by this federation. Janardan Singh Gehlot had held the position of Kabaddi Federation’s President for 28 years up until 2013, and then he stepped down only to be replaced by his wife Mridul Bhadauria Gehlot, a gynaecologist. It didn't stop just there, he changed the constitution of the federation to appoint himself as the Life-President of Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India. Gehlot also formed the ‘International Kabaddi Federation’, he is the president of this federation as well.
Asian Games, 2018 seem to be his Waterloo. The procedure of selection of the teams for Asian games enraged the entire Kabaddi fraternity and the nation. Voice of dissent over the selection of players for the Asian Games 2018, soon became an outcry against corruption and favouritism. Everyone was aghast to see this high handedness of AKFI management. Gehlot had never cared for his opposition or the criticism against him earlier. This time it was different, two former Arjuna awardees and international kabaddi players, Honnappa C. Gowda and S. Rajrathnam, decided to take the legal course against the irregularities and filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court.
On August 3, 2018, the High Court quashed the appointment of Gehlot as Life-President and his wife Mridul Bhadauria Gehlot as President of AKFI. The court also struck down the “illegal” amendments they had made in the constitution of the Federation. The complainants then also asked the court to form an interim committee to oversee the selection of players. The court heard the intervention of the petition, but since the Asian Games were just a few days away, the court allowed the teams to participate in the games under certain conditions. The court admitted to the faulty selection process and confirmed the fact that the selection committee had arbitrarily selected 14 players. After this confirmation, the court assured the players of the National Kabaddi Federation of India that the players who have gone to Indonesia will have to fight for their place in the international team. A match is organized on September 15, 2018, between the selected 14 and the ones who were not. This is a first in the history of Indian sports that any international team will have to prove its mettle to the court and to the people of the country.
After losing to Iran, the players of the men and women team of the Indian Kabaddi now have to face the 14 players who had not been selected due to the "biases" in the selection process. This match will be conducted during the day for the court in Delhi's Thyagaraj Game Complex. The match will be video recorded with every minute detail as it will be then be placed in front of the court along with the report of the panel of the three selectors, who will supervise this one of its kind match of Kabaddi. These three selectors will be sent by the Ministry of youth affairs and sports. This is Kabaddi’s chance as a sport to prove itself and secure the sinking future of the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India. On the other side, the players who felt that they had been wronged, will give their best to prove their point.
Commenting on the current situation, petitioner Honnappa Gowda asked, ‘After the disaster in Indonesia, is there any proof required to prove the biased selection?’ Wrong team selection has deprived the country of Gold and brought shame. He is hell-bent on proving his point and is organizing a camp in Bengaluru for the Court Match. This result can change the course of not only Kabaddi but a strong message for other sports federations too. But this also raises another question, is it also time to implement recommendations of the Lodha Committee in Kabaddi too? We hope for a speedy trial and early verdict from the Hon'ble high court so that the course correction begins soon.
(Satish Mishra is a senior journalist. Follow him on Twitter @satishNBT)