The Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) is treading in deep waters. While it waits for the Delhi High Court’s next hearing, which is scheduled on September 24, the pressure on the national federation is continuously mounting.

On July 17, the Rajasthan Equestrian Association (REA) filed an application in the Delhi HC wherein it accused the EFI of violating the 2011 National Sports Development Code (NSDC) in the process of its governance and election of representatives. The petitioner also pressed for the formation of an ad-hoc committee by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), in consultation with the sports ministry, to manage the affairs of the EFI until the elections are conducted in compliance with the NSDC.

The Delhi HC, in response to this application, delivered a forceful order on July 20. It restrained Lt General S.S. Mishra and Lt General M.K.S. Yadav from acting in the interim capacity as the president and the vice-president (admin), respectively, of the EFI till the next hearing, i.e., September 24.

The events that led to the restraining order were such:

In September 2019, Lt. General R. Gopal, a former Quarter-Master General (QMG), was elected as the president of the EFI for four years on the very day he became a member of the federation. The Rajasthan unit had challenged these elections too, but since the election process was already afoot, the Delhi HC, in its order dated September 26, 2019, allowed the elected personnel to function in-office on an interim basis.

However, Gopal retired from the position of QMG on 31 May 2020. Interestingly, that day, he also vacated his post as the president of the EFI.

It was Mishra who stepped in as the new QMG. Subsequently, he was unanimously elected as the president of the EFI on June 22, despite being a member of the federation for only over a month.

In five years, Mishra is the EFI's fourth president – a commitment which is four-year-long, on paper.

Similar was the pattern when Lt. General M.H. Thakur resigned from his post as the vice-president (admin) of the EFI. His tenure ran till 2021 since he was elected in September 2017, but he left the federation when he retired from the post of Director-General, Supplies & Transport in the Indian Army.

Like in the case of the presidential election, Yadav, who became the new Director-General, Supplies & Transport in the Indian Army, was also appointed as the vice-president (admin) of the EFI.

It is these nominations that the REA has contested in its on-going plea in the Delhi HC. They have also asserted these nominations were based solely on the ranks in the Indian Army and hence, adversely affect the democratic nature of the sport in the country.

Col. (Retd) Rajesh Pattu, an Arjuna Awardee and a three-time Asian Games Bronze medallist, in an interview with The Citizen, commented, “The Equestrian Federation of India is controlled by the Indian Army (ASC). It is baffling that the Army, being a government organization, has been so brazenly open about flouting the sports code which was also put forth by the government.

“The people in charge use the office like their personal fiefdoms and have no intention to serve the sport or its athletes. It is high time that the ways of the EFI are brought out into the public domain so that they can stop hiding behind the guise of an organization of integrity,” he continued.

The EFI in its defense challenged the Delhi HC’s July 20 order on the premise that the candidates were elected in accordance with and through the consent of Dr. S. Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner of India and the observer designated by the court last year to supervise the functioning of the federation. The EFI also claimed that the current, temporary arrangement was made due to the peculiar circumstances that arose because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Col. Jaiveer Singh, secretary-general of the EFI, refused to comment on the matter when The Citizen approached him.

The official website of the EFI too has been out of service for several weeks.

The on-going court case isn’t an isolated development, rather the national federation has been constantly under scrutiny over the years.

In 2019, the IOA de-recognized the EFI’s status as an associate member on the grounds of flouting the sports code. On the other hand, despite issuing numerous warnings, the sports ministry, to date, has always ended up renewing the EFI's annual recognition.

Ignoring these cautions and demands for compliance, the EFI often went on to further breach that same code by inducting more individual members and clubs in its electoral college. It is known that the national federation has over 1200 individual members and over 300 clubs in its body politic. Army units like Transport Battalions, Supply Companies, and Dog units also feature in the federation’s membership roaster. As per the sports code, only state associations exercise voting rights in a national federation. Clubs and individuals can join their respective state associations.

The EFI even requested the ministry to treat it as an exception based on the hypothesis that equestrianism is a peculiar club-based sport and state associations were not true representatives.

Earlier this year, the REA accused the EFI of also infringing rules and regulations of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) and the Olympic Charter, and filed a representation with the international federation. It also alleged that there was government and political interference in the running of the EFI.

“The preamble of EFI statues clearly states that it is run with the support of the Indian Army. EFI is dealt with by the executive committee comprising 22 members. Imperatively, the committee, at present, predominantly consisted of Army officials, who hold posts of office-bearers within the governing structure of the EFI.

“They are employees of the Indian government. Due to the prevalent structure and system of governance, there has been a lot of undue influence that has been exerted by the Indian Army as well as the Indian government on the functioning of EFI, which has adversely affected the growth and development of the sport in India,” read the representation.

Pattu, also the convenor of a five-member committee panel created by 22 state associations in December 2019 to put forward their demands, told The Citizen, “It is very clear that the EFI has no interest for the sport nor do they believe in following the governing guidelines prescribed by the govt of India. It has become clear over the last few months and after repeated attempts for all fronts for the EFI to change their statutes that they would rather use the clout of the Indian army to maintain status quo than change for the better.”

Yet, like many in the equestrian fraternity, Pattu remains optimistic about the upcoming court hearing. “The court will give a balanced decision which will benefit the riders.”

Saurabh Nagpal is a freelance sports journalist.