Nearly decade after he last won the National crown the 66kg class in Gonda, the humble, soft-spoken Sushil Kumar was anointed national champion one more time, this time in the 74kg class, in Indore on Friday. No rules were broken and yet the very tenets of sport were taunted when his opponents in the last three ‘bouts’ refrained from locking horns with him.
We have been told that the three wrestlers – Praveen (Harayana) Sachin Rathi (Uttar Pradesh), Parveen Rana (Delhi) – conceded their bouts owing to the respect they have for pehelwanji. And while all competitors, not just legends, must be accorded respect, it is of utmost importance that sport must be treated with the respect that it deserves.
Nobody, not even a legend like Sushil Kumar, is bigger than the game.
He has Lalmalsawma and Mukul Mishra to thank for the few minutes that he got to be on the mat in Indore on Friday. Neither of them respects him any less than the others but they showed heart in offering him their best challenge, not matter that they didn’t last beyond 45 seconds and a minute and 45 seconds respectively.
It is not as if one half of the draw was fighting only for the bronze medal and the other half only for the silver medal. Surely, this is not how talent needs to be spotted and nurtured. Surely, this is not the message that must be conveyed to young wrestlers. Yes, respect your seniors but if you are not going to compete, then stay in the akharas and not venture into competitive sport.
When he was once ruled out leg-before wicket, legendary cricketer WG Grace is famously said to have told the umpire "They (the fans) have come here to watch me bat not you umpire," before he continued to bat and enthrall the spectators. But he did that in an exhibition match and the National Wrestling Championship in Indore was meant to be extremely competitive, wasn’t it?
Of course, wrestling may be replete with such examples of grapplers showing respect but a hat-trick of walkover verdicts would be a first. Sadly, no attempt was made by coaches or officials to tell the three wrestlers that they would have respected the champion more by competing with him on the national stage.
Many years ago, I knew this teenager who drew a bye in the first round of a one-day table tennis tournament in Hyderabad YMCA, and got a walkover in the second round. Yes, before he knew it, he was in the quarter-finals and on cloud nine. Till Friday, he would have assumed that this was some feat. The spate of walkovers in Indore, clearly contrived, outdid that.
It does not appear as if Sushil ordained the three walkovers. The biggest and most decorated name in Indian wrestling was complying with the Wrestling Federation of India’s diktat that only those competing in the national championship would be considered for selection to the Indian team.
In returning to competitive wrestling, Sushil may be looking to complete a hat-trick of Commonwealth Games gold medal victories and to add to the bronze medal he won at the Asian Games back in 2006. But he would have been as stunned as everyone else at being denied the opportunity to compete and win the national crown.
Sadly, the Wrestling Federation of India has been party to the mockery of sport that the series of walkover decisions are. At a time when it appears to have made peace with Sushil, it seems that it will not want to wade into controversial territory by charging the three wrestlers of showing disrespect to the sport.
It appears to have to have taken no steps towards stopping the series of walkovers. But then what would you expect of a federation that allows Narsingh Yadav, a wrestler, on whom the Court of Arbitration for Sport imposed a four-year ban for an anti-doping rule violation, to be present on the stage with the sport’s officials?
As for the ministry, which took suo motu notice of a media report which suggested that a para swimmer had to beg and borrow in Berlin and asked the Paralympic Committee of India to present its report inside 10 days, it will be only fair that it seeks to educate itself about the circumstances that led to three wrestlers’ reluctance to fight Sushil.
Curiously, Sushil, the winner of the two Olympic medals, is the government observer for the sport. Surely, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports will be interested in reading his report, however brief, on the conduct of the National Championship in Indore. You can be sure that it has the potential to nail all that is now wrong with the management of the sport.
Perhaps, he can also include a whole section on how wrestlers need to develop and embrace professional and competitive attitudes rather than be stuck in an age-old philosophy of respect for seniors which prevents them from showcasing their skills that they have sharpened over long hours of practice.
It is anyone’s guess if Sushil would go ahead and make even a mention of this; just as it is anyone’s guess if either the Wrestling Federation of India or the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports would go beyond telling us that this is an inseparable part of sport, that nothing was really amiss in Indore and it was not a farcical drama at all.
Updated Date: Nov 18, 2017 17:54 PM