Updated: August 21, 2021 2:26:40 pm
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), said he wants to make an example of wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who was served a show-cause for allegedly refusing to stay with the Indian team at the Tokyo Olympics and not wearing the team’s official uniform for her bouts.
Singh also demanded a bigger say in the planning for the Paris Olympics while accusing the Target Olympic Podium Scheme as well as private bodies like the Olympic Gold Quest and JSW Sports for sidelining the federation. Excerpts from an interview:
Has there been further progress on the issue related to Vinesh?
We have referred it to our disciplinary committee, which will call Vinesh, Sonam and Divya Kakran. It’s easy to say ‘I’ve made mistake’. But what made you commit that mistake, and why? These are senior wrestlers. Vinesh has replied through her lawyer and said she did not stay with the Indian team for the betterment of the other wrestlers so that they don’t get exposed to the virus. Okay, maybe it was for others’ good. But then why didn’t she wear the costume? Because of that mistake, she has to know what all I had to undergo, what happened to me.
What happened to you?
After Deepak Punia’s incident happened, when his coach beat up one official, I had to appear before a commission that had members from the United World Wrestling and International Olympic Committee. I had to ensure the team did not get debarred. I told them there has never been a case where our wrestlers have flouted any rules and expressed regret but they questioned me, ‘how do you run the federation. Your wrestler isn’t wearing the (official) costume’. She could have lost a medal had she won. This isn’t a small incident. I had to beg and plead.
Do you think this is also an issue of gender equality? There was just one coach for four women wrestlers but seven coaches and support staff for three male wrestlers.
The Indian Olympic Association had set a limit on how many coaches and physios could go.
But as federation president, do you think it was right for four women to get just one coach?
This you can ask (assistant secretary Vinod) Tomar ji [Tomar: “We had one chief coach and common freestyle coaches for both teams.”] And if you are coming to the issue of Vinesh not having her personal physio at the Olympics, she did not tell the federation who her physio was. How are we supposed to know unless she tells us?
Vinesh has written multiple emails to the federation with all details.
She gave those proposals to TOPS, never to us directly. She should have given it to us.
There are emails…
It has never happened that Vinesh approached the federation. This is my allegation against TOPS. They are directly overseeing issues like where the athlete should go for training.
So the issue is not planning per se but just that Vinesh, according to you, sent the proposal to TOPS and not to WFI?
If it was our plan then I could have sent my whole team. Bajrang and Vinesh were two very senior wrestlers. Their ranking was first-class going into the Olympics. They thought a certain plan was better for their future so they told TOPS, who then told us.
About planning, the federation had held just one national camp for women wrestlers since April.
Tell me, is there any other federation apart from mine that conducted nationals during a pandemic?
That’s a different topic. Between April and July, there was just one national camp for women that lasted for less than two weeks.
I don’t remember exactly. Anshu (Malik) went to some country for training after national camp, Poland I think and after that either Russia or Belarus. I had sent the entire team. Vinesh was training in Hungary before that. I don’t have any problem with them training abroad but neither the India coach nor federation was taken into confidence. They took TOPS into confidence.
At the Tokyo Olympics, a men’s coach (Rajiv Tomar) had gone as women’s team coach.
No, he did not go as women’s coach but he was made the women’s coach temporarily for some reason.
What was the reason?
That Tomarji will tell you. [Tomar: He was there at the pre-departure camp in Sonepat. Since there is no difference in men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling, we had common coaches for both teams and he was one of them.]
Vinesh has had a string of good performances. Is banning an athlete from the world championships a just punishment?
I am not her enemy and I have nothing personal against us. But IOC ke saamne jo jaleel aur beijjat hona pada… how could she wear a different costume? She is senior enough to understand there is a proper costume for every tournament. We have to look at other wrestlers too. India’s wrestling isn’t dependent on one wrestler. We have to make sure no one makes such mistakes in the future.
But then, WFI too has made mistakes in the past.
What mistake has the WFI made? WFI has never made a mistake in life. No one can point out even one mistake we have ever made.
One example is during the Olympic qualifier earlier this year. The women’s team reached hours before their bout, had to cut weight at an airport terminal, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat…
This, when the programme is made, when a team has to reach their destination, these are small things. What can I do about this?
There was another instance a few years ago where in a qualifier for the Rio Olympics, a physio had to compete in a bout because India did not have enough representatives.
I don’t have enough documents during this time. But if WFI is making mistakes, then you should know that every other federation in the country is making 10 times more mistakes.
Do you want TOPS to be involved in wrestling?
Yes, they are needed. But whatever programme they make, chief coach and federation should be taken into confidence.
How do you see the role of OGQ, JSW, etc.
We do not need OGQ and JSW. They have spoilt three wrestlers, I won’t name them. When the Indian government is ready to spend on the athletes, then why do we need them? They can support junior and cadet wrestlers who actually need support. Not just those who are close to winning a big medal. They aren’t spending as much as the government, which has spent close to Rs 85 crore on the wrestlers. My biggest problem is they don’t inform me who they are sending as sparring partners.
If a wrestler is connected to any of these, what is their future?
Bilkul nahi khelne doonga (Won’t allow them to play).
Not even someone like (Tokyo silver medalist) Ravi Dahiya…
Even I am giving Ravi Rs 1 lakh per month. From how many places will you take money? We are ready to give you everything. If they still want to be involved, they should share a copy of their agreement with the players and factor in our views.
Olympic Gold Quest’s response
OGQ has been supporting wrestlers Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Deepak Punia for the last 6 years since they were 17 and 16 years old respectively, well before they both came into the limelight.
OGQ has been running a fairly large Junior Program in the country where we support the training of more that 100 junior athletes in the age group of 11-19 years across various sports. In fact, within wrestling itself, of the 32 wrestlers we currently support, 23 are junior wrestlers in the age group of 13-19 years across 7 different academies in Haryana and Maharashtra. We have been supporting PV Sindhu since she was 14 years old and Lakshya Sen since he was 10 years old.
The Government and SAI are undoubtedly the biggest and most important stakeholders in Olympic sport. We have said time and again that the Government, SAI and TOPS are doing a brilliant job especially in the last 5 years during the Tokyo Olympic cycle. They have excellent bureaucrats and leaders like Sandeep Pradhan, DG, SAI and Cdr. Rajagopalan, CEO, TOPS.
One of the standout features of the last 5 years during this entire Tokyo Olympic cycle has been the teamwork between all stakeholders involved in Indian sport. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), the National Sports Federations and Non-Profits like OGQ have worked in close cooperation with each other to ensure that the athletes get the best possible support, all gaps are covered and there is no overlapping of support. For example, in the case of Mirabai Chanu, SAI, Weightlifting Federation of India and OGQ worked in close cooperation to send her twice to St. Louis, USA to train in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
To my knowledge, several emails were sent in the last 10 months by Vinesh herself to WFI and TOPS. These emails had detailed information on the training plans for Tokyo, the coach and support staff and sparring partners for Vinesh.
Finally, in the same spirit of teamwork and cooperation mentioned earlier, we sent a proposal to WFI on 24th March 2021 to work on 3 main aspects – Junior and Cadet wrestlers for the long term keeping Los Angeles 2028 Olympics in mind, Sports science and coaches.
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