Controversy takes toll? Freestyle wrestlers' performance drops, out of top-3 in Asia

The performance is a cause of concern especially with the Olympic qualifier and Asian Games scheduled later this year.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo)

CHENNAI: India managed a solitary medal on the final day of the Asian Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan on Friday. This must serve as a big wake-up call for the country's wrestlers. Anirudh Gulia bagged 125kg bronze as India's freestyle wrestlers with three medals (1 gold and 2 bronze) finished a lowly seventh in the ranking behind hosts Japan, Iran, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. This is the men's freestyle wrestlers' worst finish at the continental event since 2018 when they were ranked 8th. In the previous four editions (2019-2022), they finished second bagging more than five medals every time.

After country's top wrestlers protest against the Wrestling Federation of India's (WFI) president, there was no clarity on national camps. An oversight sight committee was formed by the sports ministry that looked into the day-to-day functioning of the WFI. The selection trials had issues too and had to be resolved in court. The Sports Authority of India is conducting the national camps at Sonepat, while some top wrestlers, who had protested, are still skipping international competitions.

The performance is a cause of concern especially with the Olympic qualifier and Asian Games scheduled later this year. Dronacharya Awardee coach Mahabir Prasad feels the tussle between the wrestlers and the WFI took a toll on the performance of the freestyle grapplers. "When such things happen, it affects athletes mentally. We have seen how their performance got affected in the 2016 Rio Olympics after the doping controversy. None of them (men's freestyle wrestlers) could win a medal, which was a setback as they had won a bronze in the 2008 Games and a silver and a bronze in the 2012 Games,"  Prasad told this daily.

The Greco-Roman wrestlers from the country finished 6th while the women wrestlers were ranked third at the Asian Championships. The Greco-Roman wrestlers bagged a silver and three bronze while the women pocketed two silver and five bronze. "We are not strong at GR style but the women and freestyle wrestlers from India are expected to finish in top-3 in the Asian Championships. If we talk about 2018, a lot of medal prospects skipped the event given the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games were scheduled later in the year. So that performance cannot be considered while evaluating the show. And that can be understood as our wrestlers shone at the CWG and Asiad later in that year," added the coach.

Given the standoff between the wrestlers and the federation, top grapplers like Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat skipped the event. Ravi Dahiya, who bagged a hat-trick of gold medals in 57kg, missed the championships due to injury but Tokyo Olympian Deepak Punia, competing in 92kg, failed to finish on the podium. Apart from him, another medal prospect, Sarita Mor,  who had bagged two gold, a silver and a bronze at the event, also returned empty-handed.

"In January, most of these wrestlers protested against the WFI. Even when they resumed training once the sports ministry constituted an oversight committee to probe the allegations, most of them have to spend hours before the panel recording their statements. It's not an ideal preparation ahead of such big events. The World Championships, which is an Olympic qualifier, and Asian Games are next and it's time we get our house in order otherwise India's campaign at the 2024 Olympics may get affected as it did in 2016," signed off the coach.
Show at Asian C'ships

2023: FS: 7th (1 gold, 2 bronze); GR: 6th (1 silver, 3 bronze); WW: 3rd (2 silver, 5 bronze)
2022: FS: 2nd (1 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze); GR: 6th (5 bronze); WW: 4th (2 silver, 3 bronze)
2021: FS: 2nd (1 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze); GR: 7th (no medal); WW: 2nd (4 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
2020: FS: 2nd (1 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze); GR: 5th (1 gold, 4 bronze); WW: 2nd (3 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze)
2019: FS: 2nd (1gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze 8); GR: 6th (3 silver, 1 bronze); WW: 3rd (4 bronze)
2018: FS: 8th (2 bronze); GR: 7th (2 bronze); WW: 4th (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)

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