As a medical official who has often collected urine samples from sportspersons for dope tests, Dhirendra Singh has noted a pattern. Most athletes find it particularly hard to provide enough urine for the sample. “Most of them are particularly nervous so they just can’t provide enough of a sample,” he says. So when Singh, also a physio with the Indian women’s wrestling team ran into Narsingh Yadav, just after the wrestler had given a sample on June 25, he remembers the incident because it was so unusual.
“ I joked ‘Pehelwan ji apne to pura bhar diya.’. And he replied that not just urine soon he would be providing blood samples as well because he was being tested so often,” recalls Singh. Singh recalls laughing at the exchange without realising that the sample Yadav provided might have ended his hopes of competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Singh believes the incident is evidence of the fact that Narsingh Yadav was unaware of the fact that he had prohibited substances in his body. Indeed while Yadav might have failed a drug test, he has no shortage of believers at the SAI Sonepat campus in his theory that he is a unwitting victim of sabotage.
Narsingh skipped Tuesday evening’s practice session on campus – he was in Delhi preparing for his NADA hearing on Wednesday. And while his compatriots continued to train at the Sushil-Kumar Yogeshwar Dutt wrestling hall, the unseemly saga was not far from their minds. Olympic bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt, who will be representing India in the 65kg weight category, had tweeted in support of his embattled grappler in the morning.
“Mujhe vishwas hai narsingh aesa nai kar sakta,” the tweet had read.However while backing his compatriot, Yogeshwar said Narsingh ought to have been more careful over the manner in which his food was prepared. “Of course everyone is supporting Narsingh. Even I am. But in the end he will have to bear the consequences of this episode.”
Senior wrestlers rarely take their meals at the common mess kitchen at the SAI campus. Most of them – Narsingh included – usually retire to their rooms after practice and have a couple of juniors, as is tradition, bring them food from the kitchen.
Some of the juniors use the kitchen facilities to cook food for their seniors as well. Narsingh and his backers believe that food being cooked for Narsingh had been tampered with during this process. According to Yogeshwar, this was a risk Narsingh shouldn’t have taken especially in the context of his legal battle earlier this year to represent India at the Olympics. Yogeshwar says he doesn’t eat any food made in the SAI, Sonepat campus kitchen. It is a practice he has followed since 2014. Like Narsingh and the Olympics, Yogeshwar too had been challenged by another wrestler over his spot in the Commonwealth Games. “Once that happened, I knew I had to be extra careful over any possibility of banned substances entering my body,” he says. Yogeshwar says he only eats and drinks food that comes from the kitchen of his own house located in the SAI campus.
A junior wrestler named Amit is the only one allowed to cook Yogeshwar’s food.There are also rumours that perhaps using a duplicate key, an intruder had entered Narsingh’s room at the campus and subsequently spiked food when the wrestler was at practice or at a training tour abroad. Knowing this Yogeshwar says he ensures even when he is away, he leaves two trusted men in his home at all times. “It may seem like I being careful and what is the point of staying in a hostel if you are going to be making your food yourself. But it is a matter of your career. You can’t leave anything to chance,” he says. Yogeshwar says he had advised Narsingh about these matters as well but had been brushed off. It had seemed particularly inexplicable because Narsingh had mentioned the fact that he suspected an attempt was being made to tamper with his food.
“On the 5th of June before we left for Bulgaria, Narsingh told me that someone had tried to mix something in his food. I told him once again to be careful about what he was eating but he didn’t think it was serious.,” recalls Yogeshwar. Narsingh’s personal coach Jagmal Singh says the wrestler has always had a slightly cavalier attitude despite the chances of personal harm. Jagmal recalls an incident from around seven years back when Narsingh was beaten up by a group of men from his sports hostel who had mistaken him for another individual.
“I was very angry and I wanted to file an FIR. But Narsingh didn’t want to go through with the trouble of it all. He told me the issue was done with and he didn’t want to pursue the case further.”Jagmal says that Narsingh had similarly not bothered to pursue the matter on June 5 when he first learned that a cadet wrestler had attempted to mix a powder in his food.
“The junior who was making the food knew the boys face but not his name. When he told Narsingh they should catch him, Narsingh replied that it didn’t matter,” says Jagmal. Narsingh apparently was only thinking about his camp in Bulgaria.Jagmal rues the fact that Narsingh hadn’t tried to find the culprit at that time. While there had been CCTV footage recorded in the kitchen that evening, the tape was recorded over after a couple of weeks.
“If only Narsingh had thought to taking this matter seriously back then, we might have had proof of the sabotage taking place. It would have made Narsingh’s case much stronger,” he says.