In the run-up to what is wrestling’s ‘Belmont Stakes’, the Olympic Games, Narsingh Yadav, the thoroughbred has pulled up, much before the finish line. In fact, even before the race began. Just past midnight, minutes into 24 June, phone lines across Haryana and Delhi were buzzing that a wrestler’s urine sample had turned up positive. It still didn’t register much till someone used the word ‘Olympic bound’. After that, all hell broke loose. Narsingh is no Cassius Clay who was a genius for creating excitement before a fight. But this is an uproar that would be making Narsingh say time and again, “Why now?”
Across Delhi, in the cavernous older sections of the city, a stone’s throw from Model Town is the Chattrassal Stadium, home to wrestlers, especially Sushil Kumar. Satpal Singh, his father-in-law and in-house Don King, all rolled into one has been avoiding the phone. Satpal already knows the news. And it wouldn’t be too out of place to say that he sat smug and satisfied on his home sofa. By afternoon, his phone in-box threatened to over flow while the number of missed calls steadily climbed past the century mark. It was later in the afternoon that Satpal was ready to meet the media and speak about what in his words was a ‘tragedy.’
In front of more than eight TV crews, a few ready to go Live if Sushil had turned up, Satpal looks calm, composed and a man who has rehearsed what he needs to say in this moment of Indian wrestling’s biggest crisis. He is wearing a hat and the patterned shirt could be misconstrued as a celebratory motif. The crews assemble together as mic IDs are clubbed together. There is no requirement of any questions. “It’s very sad that this has happened,” he says, emotionless. “It’s also unfortunate that this has happened when the Olympic preparations are on.” There is no denying the fact that the doping case would take centre-stage and a certain mind space in the seven wrestlers training for Rio. Narsingh Yadav’s doping case is the headline and talking point in all akharas, among sub junior to senior wrestlers, coaches and even in the breaks during training. Also the fact that it is now wrapped in the cloak of conspiracy adds intrigue. Conversations would shift from fact to assumption to absolute nonsense in a matter of minutes.
Satpal continues. “This is why we didn’t go to the Supreme Court,” he emphasizes. “Because we wanted India to get a medal. Today, the world expects India to do well and get medals.” Beijing and London have given a fillip to Indian wrestling. But facts do state that across 15 Olympic Games and a total of 76 wrestlers representing India, we have won only four medals. Between KD Jadhav’s bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, for a run of 12 consecutive Olympics till 2008 Beijing, we didn’t win anything. Sushil’s bronze and silver at consecutive Olympics (08’ and 2012) and Yogeshwar Dutt’s bronze in London halted the run of defeats.
“It is his (Narsingh Yadav) responsibility that he looks after himself,” says Satpal. “I think it’s time that the WFI (Wrestling Federation of India) explain.” In a battle that spilled over and created warring camps within the WFI and outside, the Sushil Kumar vs Narsingh Yadav has been more damaging than any doping controversy. Wrestling is akin to fiefdom. These are modern day warriors, each with his own cabal. They are chieftains who have conquered, fought in distant lands. Narsingh came from outside the geographical reach of wrestling. He wasn’t the big guy driving a SUV on National Highway 1 between Delhi and Sonepat. He was the Mumbai lad who wanted the crown. When Sushil moves, a cavalcade moves with him. An impressive entourage of friends and hanger-on’s surround him wherever he goes. He is the Don, the king of a wrestling empire. Narsingh was the invader. After London, Yogeshwar came in. His cavalcade was bigger. A national champion wrestler, friends with both Sushil and Yogeshwar, rare as that might be, explained, “The competition is now about stature, money, land, political influence and somewhere this clouds judgement. From mere athletes, they become power brokers. Hundreds touch their feet. Obviously, they are lords.”
When Salman Khan became a brand ambassador for the Indian Olympic team, the man who stood up against the decision was Yogeshwar Dutt. He tweeted: “We have had athletes like PT Usha and Milkha Singh who have done so much for the country. What has this Ambassador done for India in sports?” It went viral. But the Yogeshwar Dutt of 2008 wouldn’t have expressed his opinion. Then he was Yogeshwar Dutt the wrestler. Today, he is Yogeshwar Dutt the Olympic medallist. IOA President N Ramachandran said Salman hasn’t charged a penny and what Yogeshwar said is his personal opinion.
In the shift of power that happened when Narsingh won his Olympic quota, it wasn’t surprising that Dutt didn’t openly come out with his opinion but did tweet: “Glory is a heavy burden, a murdering poison, and to bear it is an art. And to have that art is rare.” But sources say that Yogeshwar did lend his support to Narsingh.
Satpal was, however, incensed when asked why fingers are being pointed at him and Sushil for the mess that Narsingh finds himself in. “I don’t think Narsingh is a little child,” said Satpal, the composure breaking just that bit. “He has represented India 40-50 times and knows everything about doping. And by the way, nobody can just walk into the SAI facility at Sonepat.” Satpal lets it trail off.
Across the country, people who understand the science of doping are a bit perplexed. No athlete in his right mind will take steroids so close to the competition knowing that random tests will happen and tests will happen in Rio too. “That is what I am unable to understand,” says Dr Chandran, former Director of Medicine at SAI. “Metadienone is an anabolic steroid. And quite ancient in its use. He didn’t need to take it now.” Dr Chandran is quite clear that there has to be a motive — of why the athlete took it and if he didn’t, how it appeared in the dope test.
Narsingh has been under pressure since the time he got the nod for Rio while Sushil lost legally and philosophically the case to represent India at Rio. Now Narsingh had a go at the Olympics. But the stress was of winning a medal. You don’t take Sushil’s Rio ticket and come back empty-handed. Dr Chandran doesn’t refute it. But at the same time, does say, Narsingh would be extremely foolish to inject himself. “I do agree that there is pressure of winning a medal for Narsingh,” says Dr Chandran.
Coming back without a medal would be opening up yourself to ‘what did we say’ barbs from the Sushil camp. In his letter to NADA and the Wrestling Federation of India, Narsingh says that he gave the dope test thrice – 2 June, 25 June and 5 July. After the 2 June dope test, Narsingh went for a foreign exposure trip to Bulgaria and returned on 22 June. On 25 June, he gave a second test and then continued training in Sonepat with the final test happening on 5 July. Narsingh also writes in his letter that he received a call from NADA at 3 pm and they asked to confirm his email ID which he did and then he got a 2nd call from NADA saying, ‘please check your mail box’.
In the mail, he was asked to meet at the NADA office on 18 July. In the letter, he also writes that his training partner and room-mate Sandeep Yadav was also tested and found positive. Narsingh questions that, “Why will Sandeep take dope knowing that he is not going to the Olympics?”
Dr Chandran argues against Sandeep Yadav’s case of not taking dope simply because he is not in the team to Rio. “That’s baseless,” says Dr Chandran. “If you have to be in the national camp, you still need to perform as a wrestler. Maybe, he felt that his performance was going down. But the argument that only athletes going for bigger competitions will dope is not true.”
Neema village is located in Varanasi district about 27 km away from the city of Varanasi. There are approximately 100 houses in the village and one of them belongs to Narsingh Yadav. At the moment there is confusion inside Narsingh Yadav’s home. Pancham Yadav, his father doesn’t believe what the media has been writing about his son. “Narsingh will go to Rio,” he says. “Narsingh is not into any addiction. So, how can I believe that?” Narsingh’s mother Bhulna Devi is also confident her son will fly to Rio. “He is implicated in it,” she says. “He will go and all these things in the papers are incorrect.”
Agitated at what is happening around him, Pancham Yadav reinforces his point. “For someone, who has never even consumed paan, the thought of taking drugs at this important juncture is not possible.”
It’s a difficult time for Narsingh; if found guilty, he will be banned for four years. NADA or WADA doesn’t take too kindly to anabolic steroids and neither is he just out of the junior ranks that ignorance would be a legal tool in an argument. The 74 kg slot in the freestyle category would go empty. Intentional or conspiracy, foolishness or lunacy, Narsingh Yadav at the moment teeters on the abyss.