EFI’s selection fracas for Asian Games equestrian events leads to questions from IOA, shows need for better process

The Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) will continue its tryst with Indian Olympic Association (IOA) officials on Monday with neither side appearing to be keen to see the Indian team compete in the Asian Games in Jakarta in August. Both sides are aware that the EFI may have driven itself into a corner from which there is little room for escape.

Of course, coach Rodolphe Scherer has written emotionally to the EFI President saying he would be sad if he did not complete the project — of helping India win Asian Games medals. “Nobody can say that the selected riders are not the best ones,” he wrote, adding that a lot of riders from Japan, Thailand and Korea would be happy if they did not have to compete with the Indians.

The two-time Olympian from France has suggested that if the EFI President needed help or technical information, his services should be used. “Nobody is allowed to talk for me,” he wrote to the EFI President after having lauded him for his collaboration with Jitu Virwani, EFI vice president (Finance).

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

But if whispers from the IOA and Sports Authority of India (SAI) are to be heeded, such a mail alone is not going to be enough to move the EFI President into revising his decision a second time. The selectors, who chose to pick a four-man eventing team and a three-man show jumping squad, are hoping that the IOA officials would ask any of them about the riders’ medal chances.

Yet, there are some questions that those backing the Army riders, who faced the trials, have raised. They have pointed out that those riding in India were given fixed dates for the five trials at home while those overseas could pick and choose the dates and venues of their trials, giving the EFI a mere 15 days’ notice ahead of each trial.

IOA sources said it was more concerned about a few recent decisions that could have influenced the selections. The two biggest questions raised have to do with the last two events in Europe on 10 and 24 May. The three Army riders — Jitender Singh, Rakesh Kumar and Ashish Malik — did not take part in the eventing competition in Marbach in Germany on 10 May.

And when they participated in Saumur on 24 May, they were not on their better horses. Jitender rode Viril Peccau, Rakesh was on Vadim de Savigny and Malik on Frimeur du Record. It meant that the three Army riders spent nearly a month after competing in Jardy on 4 May not looking to secure their selection with three qualifying scores.

The IOA bosses’ curiosity was aroused by the fact that Jitender had earned two qualifying scores on Dalakhani du Routy, Rakesh had two such rides on Veni Vedi Vici while Malik did not have the chance to rustle up a second qualifying on Qurt de Montplaisir. In fact, these curiosities have not escaped the Sports Authority of India (SAI) either.

Clearly, IOA and SAI have both raised such questions on the basis of communications — said to be dossiers — that were sent to them by supporters of the Army riders. In fact, IOA is said to have gone to the extent of asking EFI why it did not name alternate eventing riders for the two who were provisionally suspended after their horses tested positive for dope.

The show jumping team also has not been free of question. IOA sources say that they agreed with the suggestion that it was odd that the brothers had all their five trials in Bengaluru. They found it more odd that some show jumpers had all their trials in Bengaluru, others were tested in Meerut/Delhi, while the sole eventing rider in the trials was tested in Jaipur, Bengaluru and Meerut.

A show jumper like Amar Sarin was struck by misfortune that prevented him from completing five trials. Having finished the third trial with a qualifying score, he would have fancied his chances of maintaining form, but the Glanders outbreak frustrated him. The EFI Secretary said that even if Sarin qualified, his horse, Summer Rain, would not be allowed to travel outside Delhi.

Meanwhile, the Setalvad brothers, Kaevaan and Zahan, have already flown their horses to Bangkok rather than have them quarantined in Meerut for the mandated 60 days ahead of the Asian Games. It is a risk that the Setalvad brothers have taken, hoping that some force would get the EFI to relent on its decision to cancel the selections.

A cursory glance at the annexures to the minutes of the EFI Selection Committee meeting would indicate that three show jumping riders Sehaj Singh Virk, Yashaan Khambatta and Balaji Vijayshankar all secured three or more ‘qualifications’ in Luxembourg only to be told that the national federation there did not have the authority to conduct Asian Games qualifiers.

It tells of the levels of communication between EFI and the riders.

For all that, irrespective of whether the EFI President’s decision to cancel the selection of the Indian team is overturned or not, Lieutenant General Ashok Ambre will face a stern challenge in keeping the flock together. The undertones concerning Army and civilian riders, especially with a benefactor who is willing to pump money into the sport, are not good for the sport in India.

What is likely to emerge from the whole fracas is that the EFI will be prevailed upon to lay down qualification criteria like other national federations do, even for Indians whose horses are based overseas. It would be surprising if, henceforth, EFI does not identify the FEI events in Europe that those seeking to represent the national team would have to compete in.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 12:20:45 IST

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