Even before the Olympics have begun, the tussle between wrestlers, Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav is taking centre stage.
Over the last few days, there has been a raging debate on which wrestler should represent India in the 74kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Both Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav are vying for the lone Indian spot at the Games, in a competition that might just end up on the wrestling mat with Sushil asking for a trial.
Sushil vs Narsingh
On one hand, there is Sushil Kumar, India's most successful, individual Olympian with two medals - a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and a silver at the 2012 Olympic Games. However, both these medals came in the 66kg freestyle category. The 2016 Rio Games will have the new weight categories introduced in 2013, and Sushil had to move to the higher 74 kg category to compete in the Games.
On the other, is Narsingh Yadav, who won the Olympic quota for India in the first place. The grappler secured the quota place for India at the 2015 World Championship in Las Vegas after winning a bronze medal in 74kg. Sushil did not participate in that event due to a shoulder injury.
While it would seem that the player who won the quota participates, the place belongs to the country and not an individual. Hence, it is up to the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to decide on which wrestler will make it.
Demands of a Trial
Narsingh may have won the spot, but Sushil has also staked claim to it owing to his Olympic record and insisted that a trial be held to determine who should ultimately represent India at Rio. He has repeatedly asked for this trial, even taking the legal road by approcahing the Delhi High Court.
On 10 May, the double Olympic medallist said, "All I am asking for is a trial. I am not saying that you send me to Rio because of my glorious past. I am only saying that whoever between me and Narsingh is better, should represent the country at Olympics. Since a quota belongs to the country and not to a particular individual, thus, when there are two good contenders, there must be a fair trial. There is a procedure that should be followed.
"I have been at three Olympics already and won medal twice. My only aim is to win another medal for India," he added.
He cited other examples saying, "Even the reigning world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs had to undergo trials to make it to the US team for the Rio Games. It happens everywhere."
"The Sports Authority of India and government have spent a lot of money on my preparation and it is only just that I am given an opportunity to prove that I have utilised every bit of that," Sushil insisted.
"I would not have asked for the trials if I was not well prepared. I am asking for it because I am feeling extremely fit and my preparations are top class. I am confident of doing well if I go to Rio," said the 32-year-old wrestler.
Delhi High Court
On 16 May, Sushil moved the Delhi High Court with a plea to direct the WFI to conduct a selection trial. "We had no option but to take the matter to the court as Sushil wants a chance to undergo a trial," a source close to Sushil was quoted as saying by PTI.
However, the Delhi HC did not resolve the matters, instead directed the WFI to hear Sushil out. The next hearing was set for 27 May, giving WFI 10 days to sort the Olympic qualifications debate.
Sushil counsel alleged that the WFI had given his 'confused signals' and had failed to follow guidelines. He said that as per the government of India scheme for promoting wrestlers to win Olympic medals, Sushil has been getting funds for his training.
"I have reason to take a shot at the Rio Olympics. Confusing signals have been given to me and there has been no response from WFI. If the selection trial is carried out, I don't want to miss that. The WFI has failed to follow the guidelines," his counsel said.
WFI prefers Narsingh
Meanwhile, the WFI are not to keen on this proposed trial. The federation’s president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said it would conduct trials if the sports ministry would ask them to, according to a report by Indian Express.
However, Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has already refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying he won't "interfere" in the matter and it has to be resolved by the Federation. "It is the Federation criteria that has to be followed. We can't interfere. They are autonomous body. It is the responsibility of the Federation," Sonowal told PTI.
“On one hand, we have the future of India’s most decorated wrestler and on the other, we have our parampara and rules. While rules say the quota belongs to the country, our tradition and court’s order has been to send the wrestler who has won the quota. I don’t know what to do or what to say.” Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was quoted as saying by Indian Express.
The court order he refers to is the is the 2004 Delhi High Court verdict when the court had said the wrestler who wins the quota should be sent for the Games after Kripashankar Patel challenged WFI’s decision to send Yogeshwar Dutt for the Athens Olympics.
It should be noted that the WFI has not confirmed the final candidate as yet. But, doubts were raised over Sushil's chances on Thursday with the federation omitting his name from the list of probables sent to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for accreditations. However, his coach Satpal Singh denied the reports sayingn that thee list was not the final one.
"The list of probables sent to the IOA was not the final one. The final list will be sent to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and can be changed 12 hours prior to the event. The list sent to the IOA is a preliminary one and includes Narsingh's name as he was the one who won the quota place," Satpal told IANS.
Sushil's social media appeal
However, Sushil Kumar is in no mood to back down. The Olympian took to social media, appealing to fans to demand a trial. In a video posted on his accounts, he has said that he needs his fans' support. "I've been training hard, and I need your support to represent India at the Olympics. Through fans, I want to convey the message that I wish to undergo trial for the Olympics where I can prove that I deserve a chance to win another medal for the country," he said in Hindi. He also added #Justice4Sushil to the message.
— Sushil Kumar (@WrestlerSushil) May 12, 2016
In an earlier Firstpost article, Norris Pritam argued that there is no need for a trial now considering there has never been one ever since qualification norm for Olympic participation began in 1992 for the Games in Barcelona.
Sushil has not competed anywhere after the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. He has not even attended national camps nor took part in last year’s Pro Wrestling League. He was also nursing a shoulder injury. Yadav on the other hand besides winning World Championship medal was also a star in the Pro League. He has been under the eyes of the national coaches and in the present form stands a good chance of a medal in Rio.
With less than three months to go for the Games in Brazil, India and WFI will have to find a solution to this tussle as soon as possible as either wrestlers will need adequate preparation. A choice between a decorated, experienced player and the deserving, performing candidate may not seem easy or diplomatic, but a stance will have to be taken.