The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) all but quashed Sushil Kumar’s hopes that selection trials would be conducted to choose between him and Narsingh Yadav for the solitary spot in the 74kg category at the Rio Olympics.
The federation’s president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said it would conduct trials if the sports ministry would ask them to. However, sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal refused to intervene in the matter, saying selecting the team is the federation’s prerogative.
Sharan said he was torn between wrestling’s parampara, or tradition, and the sport’s biggest idol, before adding with a dramatic flair that excluding either one of the wrestler would be like ‘choosing which one of my hands to chop off – left or right.’
“On one hand, we have the future of India’s most decorated wrestler and on the other, we have our parampara and rules. While rules say the quota belongs to the country, our tradition and court’s order has been to send the wrestler who has won the quota,” Sharan said. “I don’t know what to do or what to say.”
While Sharan refused to give a definite answer, thus allowing the debate to rage on, the buzz in the WFI premises is that Narsingh will be the unanimous choice for the Games.
Lack of playing time
Several officials pointed out his superior record in the 74kg category and his recent performances while dismissing Sushil’s claim of being fit and prepared for the trials. “Sushil’s achievements are all in the 66kg category. In 74kg, he is starting with a blank slate and hasn’t competed in a major international tournament in last four years. Hence, we cannot say how prepared he is to compete in that category. We can’t get sentimental here,” an official said.
“On the other hand, we have Narsingh, who has won a medal in almost every tournament he has taken part in in the last two years. So the choice is pretty obvious.”
Sharan, too, dropped a hint that trials might not be conducted, citing a 2004 Delhi High Court verdict. Back then, the court had said the wrestler who wins the quota should be sent for the Games after Kripashankar Patel challenged WFI’s decision to send Yogeshwar Dutt for the Athens Olympics.
“So apart from our tradition, we also have to take into account the court order. But I can’t decide alone. I hope I get advice from the sports ministry as well,” he said.
Sports minister Sonowal, meanwhile, washed his hands off the issue. “It is the Federation criteria that has to be followed. We can’t interfere. They are an autonomous body. It is the responsibility of the Federation,” he said.
Hoping against hope
However, Sharan left the door ajar for Sushil, saying the selection committee might look into his case if he gave a written request for trials. Sushil promptly shot off a letter to Sharan on Thursday, urging them to give him an opportunity. “I wrote to the president of WFI today. I hope they will consider it,” he said.
However, it is learnt that unless there is an intervention at a ‘very high level’, Sushil’s hopes of competing for third straight Olympic medal are virtually over.
While the WFI president added to the confusion, both wrestlers plotted their future moves. In Mumbai, Narsingh Yadav began planning his preparations for the Olympics and has requested the federation to send his entry for the Freestyle World Cup that will take place in California on June 11 and 12.
India were invited to the annual fixture after Bulgaria pulled out, and Narsingh could test his wares against wrestlers from Iran, Azerbaijan and USA with whom they are grouped. “I’m really keen on going to the US meet because it will be excellent preparation ahead of Rio. The experience will be priceless,” Narsingh said.
On Wednesday in Delhi, plans were fleshed out to decide the training base for the Rio-bound contingent with Narsingh keen on a month-long camp.
“The federation has decided on Belarus because the cooler weather will help in recovery and the national team wrestlers of Belarus and other central Asian republics offer good potential for sparring. They have good speed, that’s the next step in my Rio preparation,” he said.
Sushil, meanwhile, continued to prepare for the trials. He trained at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Sonepat but sounded dejected that issue has dragged on for so long. “I am feeling extremely strange and weird. I don’t know what to say now. We have sacrificed everything to focus single-mindedly on Olympics. So when these things come up, it feels very strange,” he said. “Nobody wants such a tense and awkward situation before such a big event. I have worked so hard for this over the past two years. I just want a trial. They are held all over the world in every sport.”