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Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) lays guidelines: Earn quota place, win an Olympic berth

The move comes two years after the controversy involving Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav over the 74 kg men’s freestyle spot at the Rio Olympics.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: August 2, 2018 10:53:33 am
wrestling india Top wrestlers at an event in Mumbai to announce WFI’s principal sponsor. (PTI Photo)

On the sidelines of the biggest commercial sponsorship for wrestling and a massive influx of funds, the sport also spelt out its selection criterion, which has been the biggest impediment to transparency in this Olympic medal-winning sport.

This comes two years after the controversy that involved two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar’s ugly tussle with Narsingh Yadav over the 74 kg men’s freestyle spot at the Rio Olympics. The stated guidelines will be followed in the next two seasons, with wrestlers who earn the quotas scheduled to travel to the Olympics, to end all confusion.

Trials will be held in each weight category ahead of the Estonia World Championships next year. “There will be no exceptions,” says WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar. “If we send someone and that person wins, then the others might say that he or she wasn’t given the chance. So to avoid that, everyone will give trials before the World Championships. Whoever wins the quota at the qualifying events will be sent to the Olympics,” he reiterated. After the world event in Estonia, the next quota events will take place from February 2020. “There will be a second trial before the first of those tournaments,” explains Tomar. “Based on that trial, we will decide whom to send in case the trial-winners fail to secure the quota. If the first wrestler doesn’t get the quota in the first tournament, we’ll send the second best for the next event, and so on.”

For the upcoming Asian Games though, the selection policy involved trials, but only in certain categories. The likes of Sushil, Bajrang Punia (men’s 65 kg), Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik (women’s 62 kg) and Vinesh Phogat (women’s 50 kg) were exempted and handed direct spots for the Asiad. “In categories where we know there is never a consistent winner, we need to have trials,” says Tomar. “But when the federation and coaches know that in one weight category, one certain wrestler is going to win, then why unnecessarily hold trials?” he said.

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India’s record at the more competitive Asian Games hasn’t been as promising as the performances in the Commonwealth Games. At the 2014 edition of the continental event, Indians managed to win just five medals — including Yogeshwar Dutt’s lone gold medal. This year though, Tomar is expecting at least 9 medals. “We’re hoping for at least four golds as well,” he says. “Sushil, Vinesh, Sakshi and Bajrang are favourites in their categories. But there can also be a few surprises from the Greco-Roman wrestlers,” he said. A cursory look at the opponents points to the challenge being much tougher than what Tomar anticipates with Japan, China, Iran, Mongolia and Uzbekistan being stronger even on paper.

Tata Motors on Wednesday announced a comprehensive three-year strategic partnership (2018-21) with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) as its ‘Principal Sponsor.’ The corporate is expected to support the top 50 wrestlers (both men and women), across categories, as well as help the federation with a cash kitty for promoting and broadbasing the sport.

Big deal
“This will be one of the biggest non-cricket associations in the country, where Tata Motors will go beyond mere sponsorship,” a press release, said. While direct sponsorships and funding of players will be to the tune of Rs 18 crore over three years according to those close to the development, a larger financial commitment is afoot to take the sport beyond the next Olympics and the upcoming Asian Games.

“We have acquired content rights from United Wrestling (the world body) for a 70-day period in the year. So this will include rights for every big international tournament that Indians participate in. We are also looking at the National championships and other domestic events,” Ashish Chaddha of Sporty Solutionz, who are the commercial partners of WFI, said.

“India will definitely host the India Open in September of 2019 and we are also planning to bid for the Senior Worlds in 2020 which is a smaller event than the regular World Championships in the Olympic year,” he added.

“We’ll aim for the top 8 wrestlers from each category to be brought down,” he added. Plans are afoot to ensure that Indian wrestlers compete more internationally and win much more to increase their visibility and presence beyond the Games. The wrestling league remains the WFI’s independent property, but the new deal could see an injection of funds to the tune of Rs 248 crore, making it one of the largest after cricket, according to a WFI
official.

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