Fighting against own federation, youngest Asian Games equestrian alleges Army bias
Chirag Khandal was supposed to be India's youngest equestrian at the 2022 Asian Games. 'Frozen out' of the fresh trials, the 19-year-old alleges he is being mistreated because he does not have an Army background.
Chirag Khandal, 19, was set to be the youngest equestrian to represent India at the 2022 Asian Games, but now he is fighting against his own federation. Locked in a courtroom battle against the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI), the fate of which will decide whether he can go to the Asian Games, the young athlete has alleged that he is being frozen out because he does not have an Army background.
"Equestrian has remained an Army-dominated sport, it has been difficult for civilians to make headway. Chirag has no ties with the Army, he comes from a business family. He had thought his scores would be good enough to escape this politics but he has been frozen out," said an athlete who wanted to remain anonymous.
Chirag topped the Asian Games trials held in May 2022 in Eventing, one of three Equestrian categories. The youngster, a civilian, making the cut for the Asian Games in this rare sport made for sensational news. Even Bollywood actors were moved to share his story.
Chirag, who was then still giving his Class 12 exams, was on seventh heaven for a few months. Till an email from the EFI saying new trials would be held because the Asian Games had been postponed for a year - and some events which followed - brought him back to earth.
"The petitioner (Chirag) was the best performer in the selection process which took place over a period on nine and a half months...he has already spent more than two crores for training without any financial help from the federation...The revised selection criteria are in blatant violation of EFI statutes. The petitioner could not participate in the selection process as his horse was in France," says the petition submitted to the Delhi High Court by Chirag.
Insiders said that Chirag has been a victim of the Army bias within the sport for a few months now. During the last Asian Games trials, an EFI official had allegedly insulted his father and said they were frauds. A voice recording of the official - the vice-president of the EFI - saying he would not let Chirag go to the Asian Games even if he won the new trials is available with The Bridge.
The Bridge reached out to the official in question, whose response was that he had said it in a private space and that it was a statement made 'in broader terms'. Responding to the claims of an Army bias in Equestrian, he said: "How can that be true? Even the person topping the fresh trials is a civilian."
'Who is selecting the Indian team?'
Colonel (retired) Rajesh Pattu, a veteran equestrian and one of the most recognisable names in the sport, said that Chirag is one of many victims of the terrible state of administration of the EFI.
"It should not be seen as a fight between Army and civilians. It was the Army which dominated the sport earlier, now the scenario has changed, civilians are pouring in more and more money. The problem right now is this new administration - the secretary general has thrown out the selection committee and is taking unilateral decisions. Who is selecting the Indian team? It is because of the ego of the administration that riders will have to suffer," he said.
The EFI's secretary general Colonel Jaiveer Singh was not immediately available to comment on any of the allegations.
While a pitched battle seems to be fought across Army-civilian lines, Chirag's mare Veni Vidi Vici is living her days in peace in the French countryside, oblivious of what is at stake. At the moment, she is far away from coming or seeing the Asian Games, let alone conquering it.
"Veni Vidi Vici is a 13-year-old two-star horse. She is usually transported in a horse ambulance. To transport her to India at short notices has always been out of my reach," said Chirag.