A life-size portrait of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal greets you as you walk through gate number 22 of the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex. On Saturday, one of the greatest modern-day tennis rivalries will be played out at the arena, albeit in a one-set tie.
But the anticipation for that encounter is at fever pitch. A couple of young men from the work-force click selfies with the cutouts of the two players in the background, as a few more pictures of the duo along with an array of other stars, are strategically placed across the venue.
Hop across to the KD Jadhav Stadium and a renowned woman wrestler — world championship medallist, no less — wanders in anonymity. Inside the arena, Yogeshwar Dutt tears through a poster but the home favourite, it turns out, is likely to give the event a miss. The venue will be the launchpad for the Pro Wrestling League (PWL). There’s a lot of activity here but hardly any buzz. A volunteer, in charge of selling tickets, does not know what he is trying to sell.
“Will this be WWF style wrestling or the usual kushti?,” he asks.
The scenes couldn’t be more contrasting. A temporary barricade divides the sprawling complex, spread over more than 100 acres, in two halves.
On Thursday, the venue will simultaneously host two big-ticket events – the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) and the PWL. The reason, organisers say, is to make the crowd management and player movement convenient.
Inadvertently, though, it also highlights the disparity between the two leagues. If ever a class divide existed in sport, it couldn’t be more prominent than what it is here. It’s a gap between the evolved and the evolving; the haves and have nots; a sport that is expanding to new boundaries by exploiting its mass appeal while the other struggles to gain a foothold even at its own traditional backyard.
Wrestling has taken a giant leap of faith by foraying into the glitzy world of professional leagues. But instead, it stands out as a poor, directionless cousin compared to the IPTL.
Star power vs no shows
It reflects in the interest the two leagues have generated, not just among the fans but also the players. While a galaxy of global tennis stars have descended upon Delhi for the IPTL, the country’s wrestlers do not even seem enthused to be a part of the wrestling league and are likely to give it a cold shoulder. According to reports, Sushil Kumar has already decided to give the inaugural edition a skip and on Wednesday, it emerged that even Yogeshwar is doubtful.
The London Olympics bronze and Asian Games gold medal winner has had second thoughts due to medical reasons.
The two biggest, most marketable men pulling out of the league will take away whatever little sheen that was remaining off the wrestling league. On the eve of the tournament, several international wrestlers were still to land in the city, making the organisers nervous of their participation in the league. And even though the women wrestlers who headline the league are here, they are largely unknown and aren’t the names that will draw spectators.
The organisers claim the premier evening for the PWL is sold out. But there are fears that the stadium will remain empty as most tickets that were up for sale have not actually been ‘sold’.
Across the other side of the divide, tickets were in high demand for the IPTL despite the fact that the cheapest ticket was costlier than PWL’s costliest. Mahesh Bhupathi’s league has priced its tickets from Rs 4,000 to Rs 48,000 while PWL tickets are available in the range of Rs 50 to Rs 1,500. But even though the ticket counter was up and functional at the IPTL side of the Complex, there were no such signs near the wrestling arena.
The PWL officials are optimistic that the momentum will pick up once the league gets underway. But one fears that they might further drown in the noise from the neighbouring arena when Federer and Nadal resume their rivalry for the first time on Indian soil.