Indian wrestling has sealed eight quota places for the Rio Olympics — the country’s highest ever. Sadly, double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar has had no part to play in collecting this historic haul. But if the names of all contemporary wrestlers were to be reeled off, Sushil’s would be the first to be counted as a medal hope. India finds itself in a strange situation, therefore, where instead of feting a sporting federation for its eight Olympic berths, the country is compelled to obsess over the one mistake it committed: Of not spelling out the rules of who goes to Rio. And the Wrestling Federation of India will face persistent queries as to why it won’t throw Sushil and Narsingh Yadav into a bullring and allow a fair trial to decide who should head to Rio.
Narsingh says Sushil never went through a trial after winning quotas. Sushil says it was common to have trials many Olympics ago. The federation is taking sides but with little thought to the repercussions it’ll face if it doesn’t allow trials. A procedure needs to be set in stone — that accommodates performance over a longer timeframe, rewarding both consistency and current form. Indeed, a quota belongs to the nation and not the athlete, and most mature wrestling countries like the US and Iran conduct trials. Powerhouses like Russia and Japan follow a clear-cut system about sending quota winners. But India continues to follow only its whims.
Wrestling cannot continue with its arbitrary ways of sending athletes to the Olympics by allowing factions and politics and petty egos to have a field day. Indian wrestling deserves better than the black mark of a legend denied his last charge at an epochal third medal. On the bright side, for once, India is arguing over the capabilities of two great wrestlers. For once, it is sounding like a nation preparing to go to sporting war at the Olympics.