The race for an Olympic spot in the 57kg category of the Indian wrestling team took an ugly turn after Rahul Aware, one of the three contenders, abandoned his team en route to a training camp in Georgia, alleging bias against him. He is now facing a disciplinary action after being pulled up by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
The wrestlers left for Tbilisi, Georgia, last Thursday for a month-long camp ahead of the penultimate Olympic qualifying tournament in Mongolia later this month. However, when Aware reached the Delhi airport with rest of the contingent, he found out that the WFI had already processed Mongolia visa for Sandeep Tomar, his rival in the same weight category. Miffed that he was not being given an opportunity to compete in the qualifiers, Aware boarded a flight to Mumbai instead of Georgia, deciding not to be a part of the training camp as well.
The WFI defended its decision by saying that since Aware blew his chance by not managing to win a quota at the recently-concluded Asian Olympic Qualifying tournament, they gave chance to the second-best wrestler in the 57kg category for the Mongolia event. In case Tomar too fails to qualify, then the federation will send Amit Dahiya, who represented India at the London Olympics, for the final qualifying tournament in Turkey next month. At the selection trials last month in Delhi, Aware had emerged on top, beating Tomar in the final while Dahiya finished third.
WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar also cited a report on Aware submitted by the coaches after the last qualifying tournament, where his international performances were criticised. According to him, coaches Vladimir Mestvirishvili of Georgia and national coach Jagmender Singh have pointed out that Aware performs well at the camps because the wrestlers are allowed an exemption of up to 2kgs over their weight categories. However, when they have to be within their weight classes during tournaments, internationally, he isn’t able to come up with same performances. “That’s why the coaches believe he isn’t successful internationally. We have been fair to him. He won the selection trials so we gave him the chance to compete in the first qualifying tournament. He couldn’t win a quota for us there. So now the second-best wrestler from the trials will get a chance,” Tomar said. “We have to bear in mind that Sandeep won the Asian Championship gold in February and Amit represented India at the London Olympics. We can’t keep sending only one person for all the qualifiers.”
But Aware and his entourage isn’t satisfied with the explanation. They have long alleged bias against him by the ‘North Indian lobby’ in the WFI, insisting they have preferred Commonwealth Games champion Dahiya and Asian Championship gold medallist Tomar instead. Even at the trials last month, Aware and his group had alleged Dahiya was being favoured ahead of him. Aware had won his opening round bout of the day while Dahiya, Sushil Kumar’s prodigy, was beaten by Utkarsh Kale.
The federation, however, believed Dahiya stood a better chance of winning a quota so they decided to give him another chance while restricting Aware. The 24-year-old reigning national champion objected to the move and was had a long, animated conversation with Sushil and WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan.
It was eventually decided that the duo would face each other and the winner would then compete in the final. Aware would justify his claim and defeated Dahiya with ease. He then proceeded to shock Tomar in the final to book his berth in the 57kg category.
Although he won a bronze at the qualifying tournament in Astana, it wasn’t enough for him to book an Olympic berth as only top two finishers in each weight category were awarded quota places. Now, by skipping the training camp at Georgia, he seems to have closed the doors on slimmest of hopes he had to qualify for the Olympics. “We have initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. He will be issued a show-cause notice for his actions and then the committee will decide what action needs to be taken against him,” WFI’s Tomar said.Aware was not reachable for comment.
The first ‘last-chance’ qualification tournament for the Rio Games will be held from April 22 to 24 while the final ‘last-chance’ qualifying tournament will be held in Istanbul from May 6 to 8. India have managed just three quotas so far, with Narsingh Yadav (74kg) and Yogeshwar Dutt (65kg) securing berths in freestyle category while Hardeep Singh earned a place in 98kg Greco-Roman category.
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