“Mass participation” and “promotion of excellence in sports” — these are the twin objectives of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports behind the first Khelo India School Games (KISG), which began here on January 31. But last week, the 42-kg freestyle wrestling event for boys saw just three entries, ensuring a podium finish for all of them.
In most other weight categories too — both boys’ and girls’ wrestling — there were only about 8-12 participants. The boys’ 46-kg freestyle wrestling fared the best, with 16 participants.
While KISG and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) blamed each other for the low turnout, former School Games Federation of India (SGFI) president Satpal Singh said, “Khelo India is a very good scheme… To get the best results, it should be conducted responsibly… It ensures the future of a player, but we need to ensure that the player receives his money and there is no misuse.”
Each discipline at the nine-day event has a designated talent-hunt committee, which has been assigned the responsibility of picking the top two sportspersons who will each be entitled to a Rs 5-lakh annual scholarship for eight years.
Khelo India CEO Sandeep Pradhan said the 42-kg boys’ event was reduced to a three-way race for gold, silver and bronze since the WFI didn’t have time to hold fresh national championships.
“WFI held the national championships in March 2017. They sent us the list of participants, but closer to our event, many of the wrestlers had moved up in weight. Since WFI did not have time to conduct fresh nationals, the category suffered,” he said.
Asked why most of the other weight categories too had less than 12 wrestlers, Pradhan added: “Both SGFI and WFI told us that these are new weight categories introduced by the international federation, so sending wrestlers in those categories would be difficult.”
The WFI, in turn, blamed the KISG, saying it didn’t allow participation of wrestlers approved by them. “WFI had sent the names of 136 wrestlers, but about 100 could not participate because KISG said we had delayed the list,” said WFI secretary general V N Prasood.
On January 31, the first day of the event, many grapplers were turned away from the venue since their names didn’t figure in the official KISG list of participants.
Confusion over the last date for entries and lack of communication between KISG and WFI are seen as the primary reasons for the depleted wrestling draws.
Initially, the first of its kind mega sports event for under-17 school students was scheduled to be held last December. But it got pushed back due to Delhi’s high pollution levels during winter.
“With the change in dates, we had to change the list too. The old list would have had overage players. According to the international wrestling rules, the turn of a year results in the age of registered players increasing. We were following the same rule here, but the KISG organising committee doesn’t want to follow them. They wanted us to send the old list,” said the WFI official.
Prasood alleged lack of experience on the part of KISG officials. “They decided to set the last date of submission as January 15, 2018. Who is John Chandy (Khelo India COO) and what does he know about sports? They have hired daily wagers to run these Games. We are sending national medallists to Khelo India and they are saying we will not take them because their names were not submitted before the last date,” he said.
Former SGFI president Satpal Singh said the issue should be probed in detail, to avoid a repeat in the future. “Sometimes, wrestlers move up weight categories or exceed the age limit. I am not sure why there were only three wrestlers in a category. I can tell you only after inquiring,” he said.