Nineteen-year-old Vikram Kurade and his friends learned the ropes of wrestling in the mud wrestling rings of western Maharashtra and used to make decent pocket money through the year. But for the last few years the entire group is seen training at the Motibaug Talim in Kolhapur during the mud wrestling season when most of their seniors are busy competing in numerous mud wrestling competitions across the region, which had been the bread and butter of almost all their seniors.
Most of these youngsters would have preferred to get themselves dirty in the mud and make some quick bucks had it not been the revolution triggered by the bronze medal winning performance in Beijing Olympics by Sushil Kumar.
Majority of them come from a poor financial background and to continue wrestling it is essential for them to earn a living out of the sport and mud wrestling has always been more lucrative in India.
If we take the example of Western Maharashtra alone, the mud wrestling season is from August to March and a good wrestler can earn anywhere between Rs 5-6 lakh during this period while there is hardly any prize money even if one becomes a national champion.
In the Kundal Wrestling festival, which is held in a small village in Sangli district, the lowest prize money for a fight is around Rs 50,000 and the award for the biggest prize money bout can range from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for the winner. Add to that the high of performing in front of a lakh and half spectators and one can understand why despite Khashaba Jadhav winning the country’s first individual Olympic bronze for India back in 1952, mat wrestling had never been the first choice of many talented youngsters in Maharashtra or even top wrestling states like Haryana and Punjab.
Most top wrestlers would also compete in such mud wrestling bouts to earn money and that affected their technique on the mat.
But that had started to change after 2008. The youngsters were impressed by the adulation and money that followed Sushil’s bronze medal and even they began dreaming of claiming international glory through performances in Olympics and Asian Games.
Many of them even sacrificed the option of mud wrestling by opting for the Greco-roman variant (International wrestling is contested in freestyle and Greco-roman in which the technique of the former is more similar to mud wrestling) and there resolve had only strengthen by the success of Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt in the London Olympics this year.
But the future of all these youngsters would be in the dark after the International Olympic Council (IOC) on Tuesday decided to drop wrestling from the list of core disciplines for the 2020 Olympics. Technically wrestling can still make the grade in September if it manages to pip seven other sports disciplines for the 26th spot.
However, that looks a distinct possibility. There will be many arguments made for and against the IOC’s decision in the coming few months till a final decision is taken in September on which sport discipline will make the Olympic grade.
It is nothing more than a futile exercise to go into the merits or demerits of these arguments because it will make no difference to what these young wrestlers have lost in the bargain.