Special Olympics & Intellectual Disability Rights

Special Olympics and Intellectual Disability Rights: A Landmark Verdict in Vijay Kumar Pandey vs. Union of India

Introduction: Vijay Kumar Pandey vs. Union of India (W.P. (C) 4452/2019 and CM APPL. 45957/2019) was decided on November 08, 2023. The Delhi High Court held that the Special Olympics Bharat (henceforth ‘SOB’) was in compliance with the National Sports Development Code, 2011 (henceforth ‘NSDC’) Guidelines with respect to selection of sportspersons, tenure of office-bearers, and the appointment of the National Coaches. The Court also appreciated the work of both the athletes, who represented India in the Special Olympics World Games, 2023, and the SOB.

Facts: Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs (henceforth ‘Ministry’), i.e., Respondent No. 2, via a letter dated January 18, 2006, recognised SOB, i.e., Respondent No. 4, as National Sports Federation on the condition that an office-bearer’s term could be of maximum 3 years at a time and a person could not hold 2 consecutive terms, in addition to abiding by the Guidelines issued by the Government of India.

SOB’s role was to develop sports for persons with mental retardation/intellectual disabilities. It was specified that it would not receive any grants for events concerning deaf persons and physical disabled persons as All India Sports Counsel for Deaf and Paralympic Committee of India were recognised for the same, respectively.

SOB was granted ‘Priority’ status on April 07, 2006, for availing central assistance under Ministry schemes.

On September 18, 2008, Guidelines by the Ministry were issued for efficient management of coaching camps, selection of coaches and athletes.

All Ministry Guidelines were compiled as NSDC which came into effect on January 31, 2011, in supersession of all Guidelines issued prior.

The Petitioner in this writ raised issues, with regard to these Guidelines, including irregularities and favouritism:

  1. Violation of terms of recognition of  National Sports Federation for selection of sportspersons with hearing impairments for Special Olympic World Summer Games, 2019, (“Special Olympic 2019”) who fall outside the purview of persons with intellectual disabilities.
  2. Chairman of SOB, i.e., Respondent No. 5 (90-year-old), has continued the post for 22 years.
  3. Violation of selection Guidelines, NSDC by appointment of Respondent No. 6, who does not possess necessary credentials in the field of sports, as the National Sports Director and National Coach.

Legal Provisions: Article 2.01(c) of Special Olympics Official General Rules provides that ‘Participation in Special Olympics training and competition is open to persons with intellectual disabilities who meet the age requirements of this Section 2.01, and whether or not that person also has other mental or physical disabilities…’.

Clause 9(iii) of Annexure XIII, NSDC provides that ‘Chairperson of any recognised National Sports Federation shall cease to hold the post on attaining the age of 70 years.

Annexure XXI, NSDC provides for guidelines for efficient management of coaching camps, selection of coaches, selection of Athletes, etc.

Issue 1: Whether the selection of sportspersons has been done as per the Guidelines?

Findings of Amicus Curiae: SOB has admitted that sportspersons with hearing impairments were selected for the Special Olympic 2019 and a reference to Article 2.01(c) was made. Therefore, Rules permit the participation of sportspersons having other disability in addition to intellectual disabilities. However, SOB has filed to furnish material to demonstrate that the selection was in compliance with the NSDC Guidelines.

Decision: The Court held that the Guidelines were formulated in accordance with the requirements of the NSDC.

Issue 2: Whether the tenure of the office-bearers is in violation of the Guidelines?

Findings of Amicus Curiae: Respondent No. 5, aged 90 years, has continued as the Chairman of SOB since 2002 violating NSDC.

Respondent No. 4’s Submissions: That the trust deed of SOB was amended on May 14, 2013, in light of NSDC, to incorporate its conditions. The changes provided that ‘the Chairperson can hold the office for a period of 12 years with or without break, no trustee can have a tenure of more than 9 consecutive years, and the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and Treasurer were to demit office on attaining the age of 70 years. That Respondent No. 5 was demitted from the post of Chairman on May 10, 2019.

Decision: The Court held that the changes submitted by the Respondent No. 4 were in compliance with NSDC Annexure-XIII providing for the limitation on the tenure of office-bearers. Further, a new Chairperson was appointed on May 10, 2019.

Issue 3: Whether the appointment of National Coaches by the SOB in violation of NSDC Guidelines?

Findings of Amicus Curiae: SOB has not provided any evidence to show that Respondent No. 6 was appointed as a National Coach by a selection committee constituted in compliance with NDSC Guidelines.

Respondent No. 4’s Submissions: It submitted a list of the national coaches and that the national coaches were appointed by a selection committee constituted in accordance with the Guidelines in NSDC Annexure XXI.

Decision: The Court noted that Respondent No. 6 was not on the list of a national coaches for SOB.

Conclusion: The Court noted that positive developments were made during the pendency of the petition and thus, issues presented by the Petitioner were substantively solved. It highlighted the accomplishments of the athletes who represented India in the Special Olympics World Games, 2023, in Berlin and the guidance of SOB. It appreciated the work of both the athletes and the bodies including SOB who worked for the same.

The Court observed that the SOB must continue to ensure that strict compliance with NSDC was done for all upcoming elections of office bearers at the national and state levels and for the selection of sportspersons and national coaches for the Special Olympic World Games, 2025.

-Lakshita Bhati

Comments are closed.