The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has tried to persuade back-to-back Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar not to insist on a trial bout with Narsingh Yadav to decide who of the two should go to the Rio Olympic Games.
Sushil met the WFI officials, with his long-time coach and also father-in-law Satpal in tow, and pleaded for a “fair trial”. The federation was naturally unimpressed with his appeal and explained to him why he does not deserve a trial. He was told that a trial at this late stage would be affecting the psyche of Narsingh who worked hard to get the quota place for the country and also was preparing for the big event.
Sushil has given a new twist to the controversy by stating that he was promised a trial, but the WFI insists that no such assurance was given. The federation made it clear that Sushil talked of him being fit only a couple of weeks ago.
On Sushil’s camp citing a precedent of a trial before the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 48-kg Greco-Roman division, it was explained that trial was held because no wrestler qualified and India received a wild card entry. More importantly it was a “political fight” with heavyweight political groups backing the two combatants, Kaka Pawar and Pappu Yadav.
Both Sushil and the WFI could have easily avoided the messy situation had the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India stepped in by monitoring the wrestler’s schedule of training and competitions.
Has Sushil submitted any medical report to either the WFI or SAI about his absence from the scene with injury? Apparently, he has not. He could not have been injured for two years not to take part in any trials or competition. Is it believable if a wrestler says he was preparing for only the Olympics without testing whether he is bout fit or not?
It is eight months since Yadav earned the quota spot winning the bronze medal at the World Championship at Las Vegas and both the WFI and Sushil waited for the other to blink.
Barely three months to go for the Olympics, Sushil woke up to tell the world in a splashed media interview how hard he has been training for over a year living like a celibate in a bid to make it to a fourth Olympics and if possible add a third medal to his Beijing bronze and London silver.
What he did not disclose is that he had not participated in any international event after the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games in his new weight category of 74 kg. All he would say is he has been nursing a shoulder injury.
The WFI officials should have simply asked Sushil to put himself in Yadav’s position and think of the situation. They have put the facts and figures before him and they could easily silence him, whatever his reputation as a tactically forceful grappler and the psychological awe he can create as a two-time Olympic medal winner.
In the last two years, Sushil was only training in camera, including a stint in Georgia while Narsingh has been taking part practically in every international championship, winning medals at the Asian Games, Asian Championships and World Championships.
On return from Georgia, one expected Sushil to fight in the much touted Pro Wrestling League as a star attraction but he stayed away, triggering rumours that he was avoiding Narsingh.
What’s important, while Sushil stayed off the competitive mat, Narisngh beat eight of the 18 Olympic qualifiers at various meets, some of them more than once. Narsingh won medals at the Asian Games, Asian Championships before the bronze at the Worlds.
When one is consumed with personal ambition, everything gets blurred. What must be eating Sushil more than anything else is that his buddy Yogehswar Datt has qualified to go to his fourth Olympics. Yogeshwar has also announced that he would be calling it a day after Rio whereas Sushil talks of a shot at 2020 Tokyo Games!
Sushil, a role model for budding Indian wrestlers after his 2008 medal that changed the face of the sport in India, knew after the London Olympic Games that he as well as his childhood buddy Yogehswar Dutt would be moved out of their weight categories under the new regulations.
The International Weightlifting Federation (FILA) abolished Yogeshwar’s 60kg and Sushil’s 66kg categories, creating a piquant situation for the two friends.
Yogeshwar had no choice but to move to 65kg whereas Sushil had to either lose a kg or add eight to get into the 74kg category. Sushil opted for the latter, a category in which young Narsingh has already made a name for himself as a long-haul horse.
Now that the Delhi High court has asked the WFI to meet Sushil to sort the matter out before the next hearing on May 27, the federation has filed its affidavit reasoning out its decision.
Sushil knows what the federation’s stand is and he says he is going to fight it out till the end. That means knocking at the door of the Supreme Court or going to the court of the big-time politicians. If that is the case, wrestling will be the loser.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)