NEW DELHI: The turnout at the Asian Wrestling Championship speaks a lot about interest of Indian viewers. When so many are fighting to do their country proud, the topic of discussion among most spectators was the IPL.
On Sunday, Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore — two teams already eliminated from the tournament — attracted much more spectators than wrestlers at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Sumit won the men’s freestyle heavyweight silver to help India bag ten medals and better their haul of nine from the previous edition of the event in Bangkok. Nobody noticed.
Wrestling, a sport that has brought Olympic medals, continues to be neglected. While so many are willing to pay thousands on tickets for an IPL game, the wrestling championship, where entry was free, took place in front of empty stands.
Among the few who turned up, the ones making more noise were foreigners. Countries like Iran and Kyrgyzstan had more support, with fans waving flags throughout. Stepping out, one could hear the cheers resonating from the Feroz Shah Kotla.
Wrestling Federation of India secretary general VN Prasood felt it was an exception. “Crowds were less this time. But when Sushil (Kumar) and Yogeswar (Dutt) were having trials before the Rio Olympics, the stadium was full. During the Pro Wrestling League too, we had crowd troubles. Police had to use lathis to control people. Glamour quotient is a big deal,” Prasood told Express.
Here too, Olympians Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat were present. But even their star value was not enough. “Now, we have a really talented batch coming up. But we need to get more people to come and support these players.
The sport will grow more, as support from people will motivate the athletes more than anything,” opined Satpal Singh, noted coach and gold medallist at the 1982 Asian Games.
In a city like New Delhi, people prefer sports that are more glamorous. But that is not the case in villages. People love wrestling in the small towns of neighbouring Haryana and other places. There is also more passion there, according to Prasood.
“With many international wrestlers coming in, such tournaments can only be held at venues that can provide the necessary facilities. Criteria like distance from the airport and good hotels for international athletes can only be given if such tournaments are conducted in a city. But we have a lot of hope for the upcoming nationals. I’m sure this won’t be the case that time,” concluded Prasood.