JUST 54 seconds after it began, the bout to determine the wrestler who would represent India at the World Championship in the 59kg category had to be abruptly stopped.
Not due to injury or a technical glitch. But because the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), which organised the women’s selection trials held at SAI Centre in Lucknow, forgot to invite a group of seers from Ayodhya, who were the chief guests, on the mat to “bless” the two competitors before the start of the winner-takes-all bout.
And so, former world championship medallist Pooja Dhanda and her young challenger Mansi had to apply a sudden brake to their high-intensity start on Monday as WFI president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP, ordered the referee to pause so that the seers could “bless” and get pictures taken with them.
Singh was on the sofa next to the mat with a microphone in his hand, controlling the proceedings as per his whims. He even had instructions for the seers, who were from the Hamuman Garhi matth in Ayodhya.
“Don’t take much time,” Singh told them. “The bout has already started and the wrestlers are warmed up. Toh aashirwad dijiye aur jaldi aa jaiye (Please give your blessings and come back soon).”
Scenes like these, where Singh starts and stops bouts as he deems fit, aren’t uncommon at wrestling events in the country. Besides, fights and controversies are never too far away from such selection trials.
On Monday, after a delay of a couple of minutes, when the half-a-dozen seers got their pictures clicked, the wrestlers returned to the mat, with Mansi producing an upset of sorts by defeating her seasoned opponent 2-0 in a tense match.
Mansi will be a part of the Indian team for next month’s World Championship in Belgrade that will be headlined by Commonwealth Games champion and former world medallist Vinesh Phogat, who powered past recently-crowned U-20 World Champion Antim Panghal.
Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, who finished on the top of the podium in Birmingham, did not take part in the trials because of short turnover times between the tournaments.
Before the Vinesh Phogat-Antim Panghal final, the wrestlers had the seers “bless” them and take pictures with them. pic.twitter.com/gUmoPHR61k
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) August 29, 2022
However, even though the action in each of the bouts held on Monday went off without a single incident, it was the goings-on around them that caught attention. Once again, it was Singh, a six-term MP and a hands-on sports administrator with the last word on all things wrestling in India, who was the focal point.
Before stopping the bout so that the seers could bless the wrestlers, Singh — never shy of throwing the rule book at referees — had earlier halted another match because he felt the official got a decision wrong. After forcing a video review, the referee stood his ground and Singh relented.
After all the bouts were completed and the women’s team finalised, the 65-year-old Singh made all wrestlers sit on the mat in three rows in front of him and pointed out technical flaws in some of them while giving tips to coaches.
That wasn’t all, he even laid down a new guideline.
“We expect that all of you will praise the government, SAI and the federation for everything they are doing for you,” he told the wrestlers. “We are supporting you in all ways, so it’s not asking for a lot. And if there are any hurdles, let me know and I’ll ensure it’s taken care of.”