Who would be Narsingh Yadav. The entire sordid story of this wrestler’s struggle to get to Rio de Janeiro has all the emotions one could imagine, baring maybe humour.
It isn’t funny. Not by a distance. The predominant emotion should be regret or sorrow – regret if he took the banned substances on his own; sorrow if his food or water were spiked. Sorrow also because the youngster has become a pawn in what is now a battle of one-upmanship involving the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and assorted people out to prove themselves right. It is also a tragedy that if Yadav were indeed to be cleared (a pretty remote possibility) then he would most likely be a shadow of the athlete who was so set on getting to Rio even a week ago. Running to NADA for tests and now to seek justice is all he has done for a week. Enough time to lose whatever edge he had – we aren’t going to the local village dangal, it is the Olympics.
The biggest tragedy of it all may come out if the mystery ever unfolds. Though I doubt it ever will. The moment we heard about Yadav failing a dope test, the immediate reaction of all involved with sports journalism was “uh oh, this is a set-up”. The reason behind this reaction was simple – there are enough people wishing Yadav falters.
It began with the battle of who would go to Rio in the first place. Given the Indian penchant for latching on to big names, irrespective of current form, Sushil Kumar was for long touted as the 74-kilo candidate. Then he was injured, subsequently lost practice time and form and Yadav ended up as the number one candidate.
Now, in our nation, going to any big event is much like a marriage – the groom’s party is large and everyone, ranging from the groom’s father to the family hairdresser, is a part of this bandwagon. So going to the Olympics isn’t about just the athlete. There are coaches, trainers, physios, fathers-in- law, doctors, dieticians, family hairdresser, the works.
So naturally, the Sushil Kumar camp, which was all dressed up, suddenly had nowhere to go. But not without a fight. Literally. Sushil challenged Yadav to a face-off, but that eventually did not happen as WFI stuck to its guns and Sushil’s case, from wrestling court to legal court, ended ingloriously.
But where glory and success (and \foreign trip) cannot be achieved, jealousy and vindication can come in. Not from Sushil Kumar, for sure. But the bandwagon had enough disenchanted ‘well-wishers’. So, the moment Yadav’s news broke, we all went “uh, oh…”.
That is the biggest tragedy of it all. Just the fact that no one would be surprised if Yadav’s chances were sabotaged. Narsingh Pancham Yadav had it stacked against him from the beginning. He wasn’t one of the “boys”, not one of the protégés from the akharas of Haryana and Delhi.
He wasn’t a part of the guru-shishya tradition of wrestling in its true sense. He was from Mumbai, a far outpost when it comes to wrestling. For him to upstage someone of the stature of Sushil Kumar was just not going to be accepted. So his entire preparatory camp and assorted other training stints have, in the recent past, been punctuated by visits for dope tests, and now visits to the anti-doping disciplinary panel.
Things aren’t looking good for the 27-year- old. Even if he, or his battery of lawyers, was able to prove that the doping was unintentional, there is practically no chance of him making it to Rio. Even WFI, for all its sabre-rattling and bravado and jumping to Yadav’s defence, has found a replacement, in Parveen Rana. A tacit but defined admission that Yadav’s Rio trip is over.
Even Rana’s provisional selection threw up questions. How come he was preferred ahead of Sushil? That was the situation of yet another sacrilege waiting to happen. Yadav isn’t just in for his Rio dreams coming to an end. The NADA lawyers are out seeking more – including a four-year ban if the fault is determined to be his, with intent.
Dope offences are rife, as can be seen from the cases in Russia that are rocking the sporting world. But even in this madness has a method to it. No athlete dopes so close to an event. In fact, most athletes caught in offences in the recent past were suspected after masking agents were traced in their samples.
So to believe that Yadav did this intentionally is a far cry. And if it was sabotage, the offenders’ purpose has been largely served. Yadav is unlikely to go. Even if he does, it is unlikely that he will win anything, given his mental and physical state.
It is a tragedy, either way. An unsavoury drama with shadowy sub-plots, all of which leave a bitter taste in the mouth. A taste of banned substances and evil intent.