Editor's Note: This copy was originally published on May 10.
Barring brilliant performances by two women wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik in the Olympic qualifiers at Istanbul this weekend, Indian wrestling was largely running through a bad patch recently. Even as two women make a historic entry to Olympics, the prestigious men’s 74-kg slot is heading towards a major controversy with the Olympic Games barely three months away.
Narsingh Yadav was the first Indian to qualify for the Games when he won a hard-earned bronze medal in the World Championship in Las Vegas last September. But as the Games are coming closer double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar is also staking his claim for the single place as both fight in the same weight category. Suddenly there is a talk of a trial between the two for the Olympic berth.
The question is why should there be a trial now considering there has never been one ever since qualification norm for Olympic participation began at the time of the Games in Barcelona in 1992.
True that quota through qualification is granted to a country not to an individual athlete. But if a particular athlete, in this case Narsingh has attained the qualification at the highest competition and is fit why should he not be considered?
In World Championships at Las Vegas, where I was present, legendary Jordan Burroughs of the USA specially asked me to call Yadav so that he could hug him. London Olympic champion and three time world champion Burroughs indeed hugged Yadav and said, "I was only afaird of him. He is the best find in India please keep him safe for Rio." At Las Vegas, Burroughs had won the gold medal in the same 74-kg category as Yadav’s.
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. Why then he should be denied entry to Olympics at the cost of sentimental favourite Sushil.
If the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) conducts trials it is going be snowballed into a major controversy. Narsingh has every right to go to the court. In fact in earlier cases of a similar nature court has already given ruling that if a particular athlete after winning a quota place retains fitness he should be sent for the Games.
Even if one considers trials between Sushil and Narsingh, then what about other qualifiers? Will WFI have trials for them too? Will Yogeshwar Dutt battle it out with his fiercest rival Amit Dhankar for a ticket to Rio?
It is understandable that WFI has a big problem at hand. No doubt Sushil has been the finest sportsperson India has produced, but at the same time everyone has pampered him – including WFI. And now they are finding it difficult to make him understand things.
A large number of WFI officials, including coaches, feel Narsingh should go to Rio. But due to obvious fear of antagonising an autocratic Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, president of WFI, they remain silent. Unfortunately, caste also plays a role in Indian wrestling. Narsingh, son of a milkman is considered a lesser mortal by Brahamans in the wrestling fraternity. But if all this bars Narsingh's passage to Rio, it will be the biggest tragedy of Indian sport.
Updated Date: May 13, 2016 11:15 AM