Lone male wrestler for Olympic paints grim picture for India

It is for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games that only one man grappler will represent India in sporting biggest extravaganza
Wrestler Aman Sehrawat (57kg) with WFI president Sanjay Kumar Singh
Wrestler Aman Sehrawat (57kg) with WFI president Sanjay Kumar Singh

CHENNAI: Sujeet Kalkal (65kg) and Jaideep (74kg) lost their respective bronze medal bouts to go out of contention for the Paris Olympics quota in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. American wrestler Zain Allen Retherford beat Sujeet while Jaideep won his first repechage bout against Arslan Amanmyradov of Turkmenistan only to lose the next against Soner Demirtas of Turkey at the World Olympic Games Qualifier, the last qualifying event for wrestlers.

This means just one male wrestler will represent the country at the sporting extravaganza as only Aman Sehrawat (57kg) won an Olympic quota for India. The last time only one male wrestler represented the country at the Olympics was in the 2000 Sydney Games. Since 2004, three or more male wrestlers competed at the Olympics winning five medals (2 silver and 3 bronze) across the five editions.

The dismal show by the Indian men wrestlers despite their women counterparts making history winning five berths brings the role of all stakeholders under scanner. What could have hurt the wrestlers most was the massive protest against the former Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh that crippled the wrestling activities in the country for almost 14 months.

During this period, the WFI remained suspended with ad-hoc committees managing its affairs. This also saw wrestlers remaining confined to their respective training centres with no national camps, national championships and very few exposure trips that too for a few select wrestlers.

"Those 14 months caused irreparable damage to Indian wrestling," Sanjay Kumar Singh, the WFI president, told this daily from Istanbul. Vinesh Phogat (50kg), Antim Panghal (53kg), Anshu Malik (57kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg) and Reetika Hooda (76kg) are the women wrestlers, who qualified for the Games before Aman.

So why did women wrestlers remain unaffected while their male counterparts had to bear the consequences and the WFI chief came up with an interesting reply. "Out of five qualified women, three are the up-and-coming wrestlers which speaks volumes of the work done by the WFI before the protest. The federation put a plan in place since the Tokyo Games and its target was the 2028 Olympics. Antim and Reetika are the products of that plan. Had WFI not suspended, all six Olympic quotas would have been booked."

On men's below-par show, the WFI president said, "Women wrestlers usually train under the watchful eyes of their parents so even when the camps were not there, they were working hard at their respective akharas. To be honest, their parents or guardians do not allow them to be part of the protest after the first few days. The male wrestlers are usually on their own away from their parents. There was also pressure from a few akharas to join the protest. Here also Aman came from the junior rank. The other two — Sujeet and Jaideep — who gave tough fights before bowing out were also junior wrestlers before graduating to the senior ranks."

During the WFI's suspension, the TOPS division of the Sports Authority of India was solely looking after the exposure trips of the wrestlers. Sanjay Singh believed that lack of proper planning and too much freedom for a few chosen wrestlers also led to the downfall.

"How many of these qualified wrestlers got exposure trips and competitions in the last 14 months? Checks and balances are important and the role of the federation was that only before the protest."

He also said that selection trials will be held to choose the best team for the country after June 10. "Let bygones be bygones as we want to field best team in the Olympics. The top 4 in each weight category will compete among themselves before taking on the quota winners. The quota winner will get another chance if he/she loses the first bout against the challenger," Sanjay Singh signed off.

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