In W.P. (C) 5361 of 2023- DEL HC- Delhi High Court grants relief to 2-time National Champion of dressage competition against Equestrian Federation of India that had “shirked away” from its responsibility of providing adequate financial support to him to participate in the 19th Asian Games to be held in China in September 2023
Justice Țara Vitasta Ganju [06-06-2023]


Read Order: Gaurav Pundir v Equestrian Federation of India



Simran Singh



New Delhi, June 7, 2023: The Delhi High Court has granted interim relief to National Champion of dressage competition Gaurav Pundir who had impugned the acts of the Equestrian Federation of India (respondent) for seeking to foist the responsibility of funding, training and participation on the petitioner even though the Federation bears the onus and responsibility to facilitate and fund the athletes/riders to successfully compete in the events in Europe prior to their participation in the Asian Games.



The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Țara Vitasta Ganju stated that the respondent/federation had shirked away from its responsibility of providing adequate financial support to deserving athletes/riders such as the petitioner and on the other hand was taking all steps to ensure that the petitioner was not even able to participate in the trials/events scheduled for the selection of the national team.



The Court was of the opinion that prima facie, the petitioner had appeared to have qualified for the Minimum Eligibility Requirement (MER) under criteria V5 during his training in India as per the score-sheet and given the fact that the respondent/federation had introduced the Trial Events by emails dated 15.04.2023 and 17.04.2023, it was necessary to pass directions to the respondent/federation to bear the Trial Event fee for two of the three events scheduled in Europe.


In the matter at hand, the petition challenged the Minutes of Meeting dated 20.02.2023 held between the office bearers of the respondents/federation and members of the Committee of Experts, in so far it sought to draw an artificial distinction in the disciplines of Eventing and Dressage qua funding of the participants. Further, an email dated 17.04.2023 was also challenged which set out the schedule for participation of the ‘Probables’ selected for the discipline of Dressage for the 19th Asian Games which were going to be held at Hangzhou, China from 23.09.2023 to 08.10.2023 (Asian Games). Directions had also been sought for funding on an urgent basis for leasing of an alternative horse and training of the petitioner in Europe.



The petitioner had impugned the acts of respondent/federation wherein, they had sought to foist the responsibility of funding, training and participation on the petitioner. The petitioner had, also prayed to direct the respondent/federation to consider the route of petitioner's horse 'Escobar' through the United States of America. The Petitioner contended that despite being the National Champion in the specialised field of Dressage for the past 2 consecutive years, he was actively being denied the logistical and financial wherewithal to appear in the selection process for the upcoming Asian Games. The petitioner submitted that he had qualified in the selection trials held by the respondent/federation under both the Selection Criteria Version- III as well as Selection Criteria Version-V (Criteria V3 and Criteria V5).’



During the pendency of this petition, the petitioner had approached this Court seeking ad-interim urgent relief by way of an Application stating to direct the respondents to include the applicant in the long list of probable players to be submitted to International Olympic Association. Further to direct the respondents to permit the applicant to participate in the trials schedules for 15.06.2023 to 18.06.2023 at Austria, as if the same were his 1st trial for the purposes of eligibility in terms of the email dated 17.04.2023. Further direct the respondent federation to consider any additional venue for trials by the applicant in the months of June/July, 2023, for the purpose of participating in 3 trials. By order dated 20.05.2023 this Court, allowed Prayer (a) of the application, directing the respondent/federation to include the name of the petitioner in the Long List of Probables which had to be sent to the Federation Equestrian Internationale (FEI) which would serve as a main reference for the Asian Games at Hangzhou, China to be held in September, 2023.



Issue for consideration before the Court

  1. Whether the petitioner should be allowed to participate in the trials scheduled for 15.06.2023 to 18.06.2023 at Austria, as if the same were his 1st trial for the purposes of eligibility in terms of the email dated 17.04.2023?


(ii) Whether the respondent/federation should consider any additional venue for trials for the petitioner in the months of June/July, 2023 to enable the petitioner to compete in 3 trials as per MER?



Court Analysis and Findings


The Court noted that the respondent/federation was the sole authority and the body for conducting all local, regional, national and international equestrian events for the country who was the only decision-making body in all matters of selection of players for participating in national and international equestrian sports. The Bench stated that the respondent/federation was thus amenable to judicial review in terms of the law as settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) v. Cricket Association of Bihar.



The Bench noted that the respondent/federation had not denied the fact that the petitioner was a national champion for the last two years. It was also not disputed that the participation in these events would not automatically guarantee a place in the national team to the petitioner. However unless the petitioner was permitted to participate in the 'trial events' as scheduled in Europe under a foreign coach , the petitioner's name would not be included in the final list of players, as drawn up by the respondent/federation for Team India.



The Court disagreed with the preliminary objection that had been raised by the respondent/federation that the prayers in the present Application were outside the scope of the Writ Petition. The Bench was of the view that the record reflected that the reliefs as set forth in the present Application had arisen pursuant to the email/communication dated 17.04.2023. The email was one in a series of communications that identified and sets out the FEI mandated CDI Events for participation of the Probables in the ‘trials/events’ scheduled in Europe (Trial Events). The Petition as filed, sought inter-alia, to challenge the email/communication dated 17.04.2023 and since, prayers in the present Application inter-alia emanated from the aforementioned email, all communications sent by the respondent/federation were pursuant to the said email would have to form part of the relief.



The Bench noted that this Court in its order dated 20.05.2023 had held that, neither paragraph 37 of the Criteria V5, nor the subsequent emails dated 19.03.2023, 15.04.2023 or 17.04.2023 of the respondent/federation set forth any criteria for automatic disqualification or elimination from the Trial Events and no other document had been placed on record by the respondent/federation to show the elimination/disqualification of the petitioner. This Court had thus, by its order dated 20.05.2023, granted interim relief to the petitioner, directing the respondent/federation to include the name of the petitioner in the Long List of Probables to be sent to Hangzhou, China in September, 2023 for Asian Games. The Court therefore held that the contention of the respondent/federation that the petitioner was automatically eliminated was thus, without any legal basis and held no merit.



The Bench noted that the email dated 19.04.2023, sought to make a distinction between those riders who were already abroad and those riders who were based in India and had already achieved the requisite MER to be a Probable like the petitioner. In view of the above, it was stated that the decision taken by the respondent/federation to then address an email on 15.04.2023 and thereafter on 17.04.2023 requiring all riders to participate in additional (FEI-CDI) Trial Events, prima facie did not appear to have a sound legal basis.



The Bench navigated through Criteria V3 dated 19.03.2021of the respondent/federation which provided for conduct of trials; Paragraph 11 that stated that to be selected, a minimum of 66% marks were required in at least one selection trial as the MER; a new Criteria V5, was notified by the respondent/federation which held that the results of the best of three competitions in which MERs had been met by the horse- rider combination would be counted towards preparation of the comparative merit for selection of probables; merit list of the probables; Paragraph 33 which provided for training conducted in ‘India or abroad’ as per the availability of budget and other conditions; Clause 34 also provided for the riders and horses selected and to attend the coaching camps at designated locations and under the coaches organised by EFI.



The Bench after analysing these provisions stated that it showed that there was no prior intimation as contained within these provisions qua the training/Trial Events to be conducted in Europe; and and the training could be done in India or abroad albeit based on budget availability. Further, the condition of compulsory securing of the requisite MER in the 1st Trial being mandatory to participate in the 2nd and 3rd Trial Events also did not appear to form part of Criteria V5 guidelines. The MER for the discipline of Dressage in Criteria V5 Rules was as per paragraph 12 and 13.



The petitioner had contended that the 3rd Trial MER Rule was already achieved by him during the Trials conducted by the petitioner between 15th August, 2022 and 15th February, 2023, as per the details of score-sheet provided to him by the respondent/federation titled ‘Details of Dressage Selection Trials of Rider Based in India’. Thus, the Bench held that the respondent/federation was imposing onerous and harsh conditions on the petitioner in terms of the email of 17.04.2023.



The Bench stated that the Court would not go into the realm of selection of athletes/riders for participation in the sporting events, being the domain of the experts. However, the respondent/federation as the national federation for Equestrian sports of the country was required to conduct its administrative actions in a fair and just manner. “It is trite that where arbitrariness or mala fides are alleged or where there is an element of malice, this Court is constrained to exercise its discretion under Article 226 of the Constitution.”



To support the aforementioned, the Court relied upon State of Punjab v. V.K. Khanna which had decided a petition filed by national rowers qua an event for participation in Junior National Rowers Championship enunciating that the administrative action should be free from malice and beyond reasonable suspicion and had observed that “all sports persons are informed in time and are given due opportunity to participate in the process of selection so as to achieve the object of selecting the best team in the interest of the sport and country.”



The Court held that it was therefore trite that all sports persons were intimated about all requirements by sports authorities like the respondent/federation in time and give proper opportunities to enable the selection of the best team for the country. “The Respondent/Federation is, however, seen to be not acting in a manner as is fair and reasonable as is elucidated herein. On one hand acknowledges that winning in the discipline of Dressage is completely dependent upon the scores achieved by a horse-rider combination”, to further their contention that it is necessary for all Probables to take part in the same events in Europe. However, in the same breath the Respondent/Federation has failed to acknowledge its responsibility as the national body of Equestrian sports, the best rider-horse combination should be the participants selected for Team India. The Petitioner and his horse ‘Escobar’ will not be able to participate in the Trials Events as scheduled in Europe, which are pre-cursor and pre-qualification for the Asian Games.”



The Court stated that it was not disputed that the petitioner was currently in Europe and had made all requisite arrangements for himself and for the two horses selected to participate in the events, and had communicated these details to the respondent/federation by an email dated 18.05.2023. The petitioner was, however, not being able to participate in any of the events as scheduled in Europe on account of ‘hurdles’ being unfairly created in this behalf by the respondent/federation. “Given the undisputed fact of the Petitioner being a National Champion in the event of Dressage, unless urgent relief is granted, the Petitioner will not be able to be eligible to participate in the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China in September, 2023.”



The Bench stated that the petitioner neither had the finances nor the wherewithal to train in Europe, the mode and manner in which the respondent/federation took the aforegoing steps was certainly prejudicial to the petitioner. No prejudice shall, however, be caused to the other Probables who were training in Europe today and had been training there since almost one year.



While relying on Deoraj v. State of Maharashtra, it was stated that “The Court is sometimes, faced with a situation where withholding grant of an interim relief would amount to dismissal of the main Petition and result in an injustice being perpetuated. In such an event, the Court would be inclined to grant as an interim relief, part or the whole of the final relief. In such cases, the availability of a very strong prima facie case, considerations of balance of convenience and irreparable injury dilating the balance of the case in favour of the Applicant may persuade the Court to grant an interim relief which forms part of a final relief.”


The Bench was of the view that the petitioner’s case is one such case.  “Based on the compelling circumstances as have been discussed herein, coupled with irreparable injury which will be caused, if relief is withheld, this Court is of the opinion that an interim relief, as is set forth below, is to be granted to the Petitioner.”


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