An army of Russian-speaking Haryanvi wrestlers could soon be strutting around the village of Bali near Sonepat. London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, who opened a wrestling academy in the tiny village last month, has also taken a determined ‘learn Russian’ initiative.
Russian is the language that wrestlers and coaches from a majority of the sport’s powerhouse nations speak, and Dutt believes the next generation of India’s grapplers would do well to learn it. Some 80 trainees, aged between 10 and 17, currently stay at the academy, some 30 km from Sonepat in Haryana.
Familiarity with Russian will help Indian wrestlers understand instructions given to opponents during a bout. “These (Russian-speaking countries) are the most important countries in wrestling. So if we learn their language, it will be hugely beneficial for our wrestlers,” Dutt said. “They can’t understand our language. But if we learn theirs, it will give us a distinct advantage.”
Countries from the erstwhile Soviet Union — Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Belarus — dominate world wrestling, apart from the USA, Iran, Bulgaria and Japan. At the Rio Olympics, 35 of the 72 medals on offer went to former Soviet countries.
“I am in touch with a few Russian teachers,” Dutt said. “I plan to get them here to teach our trainees the language. Every child should learn the basics at least; if they can manage to perfect it, that’s even better.”
On the face of it, Dutt’s academy resembles any wrestling akhara. But its curriculum will go beyond the traditional daav-pench, technique and power.
While Russian classes will begin next month, English classes are already under way. “Education is important, especially learning English,” Dutt said. “None of us (current wrestlers) can talk in English. At airports, it’s still okay, since we know what questions they will ask and the answers we need to give. But the moment we step out of our camp, a struggle begins.”
Dutt’s trainees are housed at a college in Bali, which he has leased for five years. It currently has a mud-wrestling pit and a mat; three more mats will be installed soon. “This is makeshift. Another full-fledged academy spread over five acres of land is being constructed in my village,” Dutt, also an Asian Games gold medallist, said.
Currently, all trainees are from Haryana, but a few from Satara are expected to join soon. Haryana and Maharashtra have traditionally produced the bulk of wrestlers who have represented India.
Since most wrestlers take up the sport at an early age, they often end up sacrificing their studies. To ensure that this does not happen with his trainees, Dutt has tied up with schools in and around Bali village. Two buses pick up the 80 trainees every morning at 9.30 am — the morning practice is from 6-9 am — and drop them back at 1.30 pm.