HC deals another blow to Hockey India

HI is a private body, says court as ministry withdraws election observer; polls to be held today

But on the eve of the elections, there was much drama and confusion with the Delhi High Court contending that the erstwhile KPS Gill-led Indian Hockey Federation was the only recognised federation for the game in the country and HI is a private body.

The court directive prompted the Sports Ministry to withdraw its observer SK Mendiratta from the elections but HI officials made it clear that they would go ahead with the polls irrespective of the court order. Hockey India, which has the recognition of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), has to complete its election process by the world body stipulated deadline of July 31, failing which India would be barred from participating in international tournaments.

After intense discussions, HI officials decided late in the evening to go ahead with the elections which will see 83-year-old Vidya Stokes and former India captain Pargat Singh contesting for the post of president.

"As scheduled we will be conducting our elections tomorrow. All the state federations officials have already arrived here and as directed by the High Court's order we have given them the clarification on HI's status," an HI official said. "The government has withdrawn its observer but FIH observer Antonio von Ondarza has already arrived for the polls," the official added.

Abiding by the High Court's directive, the Sports Ministry withdrew its observer for HI elections. In a letter, the ministry stated that it decided to withdraw its observer, Mendiratta from the poll process on the instruction of the High Court, which today said IHF was the solely representative of the national game in the country and HI was a private body.

"The government election observer's presence at the Annual General Meeting of HI, which is scheduled to be held tomorrow, does not in any manner reflect government's endorsement of the election process or its outcome. However, in deference to Honourable High Court's directives, the government has decided not to depute the government election observer to oversee the elections," the letter signed by Joint Secretary Injeti Srinivas said.

The government has also taken note that during the scrutiny of nominations for the elections, HI took a stand that they were not bound by the government guidelines relating to age and tenure limits.

"The government is of the view that every National Sports Federation is fully bound by the government guidelines for it to function as an NSF and perform the public function of selecting the national team and deputing it for participation in international competitions," the letter said.

"In the present situation with two recognised NSFs in place for the promotion of hockey in India, only one of which namely HI, enjoying the required support of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the government will comply the directions of the High Court to obtain the co-operation of IHF and IOA and any other body that may have been set up to resolve the matter in the best interest of hockey in the country," the letter added.

The High Court said IHF was the sole recognised body for the game in the country as it had already quashed the government's notification for de-recognition of the Gill-led sports federation. Incidentally, HI elections have been postponed thrice in the past for varied reasons, the most notable among them were the discrepancies in the affiliation process of various state associations and pending court cases.

In the run-up to the polls, the talking point was the fight for the top post between interim president Stokes, who defied the government's age limitation guidelines, and former India full-back Pargat.

During the scrutiny of papers, 83-year-old Stokes' nomination was accepted by the Returning Officer Justice RC Chopra, which not only caught the ire of the Sports Ministry but also the Pargat-led faction.

Stokes' candidature came under scanner last week after the Ministry made it clear that the "No Objection" given to HI for polls was conditional and would apply only on abiding the recent age limitation guidelines, which states that no official who is 70 or above is eligible to contest elections of NSFs. But Justice Chopra approved of Stokes' nomination after HI refused to go by the government's guidelines, saying the national body was bound by the Societies Act and its own Constitution.

While on one end Stokes and HI secretary general Narinder Batra are seen as IOA president Suresh Kalmadi's candidates, Pargat reportedly has the backing of Bengal Hockey Association president JB Roy and the government.

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