Protest brewing up as ad-hoc panel continues to play waiting game

Uncertainty over criteria keeps wrestlers anxious with just four days to go for the selection trials
Coach Dayanand Kalkal with his son Sujeet (R) (Photo|Special arrangement)
Coach Dayanand Kalkal with his son Sujeet (R) (Photo|Special arrangement)

CHENNAI:  After an intense training session at the Raipur Akhada in Sonepat (Haryana), wrestler Sujeet Kalkal, the 2022 national champion in 65kg, was catching his breath when a few fellow wrestlers joined him for a quick chat. As was expected, the conversation quickly veered towards Asian Games selection trials.

With the 20-year-old Sujeet being one of the prime contenders to book a slot in the team for the quadrennial event, his fellow wrestlers asked him about the possibility of the ad-hoc committee, currently running the sport in the country, booking the place for his more famed counterpart Bajrang Punia.

The informal discussion made Sujeet nervous as he left the venue pondering over possible scenarios. "This talk of fixing quota in a few weight categories has been affecting him a lot. We try to motivate him but wrestlers from his centre keep reminding him of it, making him tense and restless," Dayanand Kalkal, Sujeet's father and coach, told this daily.

Sujeet skipped the 2023 U-23 Asian Championships and the Budapest Ranking Series to ensure he does not miss the selection trials. He also decided to not go to Russia for a month-long training camp despite obtaining a visa for the same last month expecting trials in the near future. Unfortunately, the sacrifices he made have seemingly failed to bear fruit at least so far with the ad-hoc panel not announcing the criteria even as only four days are left for the trials. The men's Greco-Roman and women wrestling trials are scheduled on July 22 while the men's freestyle trials are proposed to be held the next day.

"On July 12, panel member Bhupender Singh Bajwa announced the trial dates. But so far no clarity on the criteria to participate in the trials. I tried to contact Bajwa and even left text messages but he didn't respond. This uncertainty has not only demotivated Sujeet to a great extent but also affected us," added the father.

Dayanand plans to meet lawyers on Tuesday if the criteria is not made public. "I will speak to lawyers tomorrow (Tuesday) and even move the court requesting it to direct the panel to release the criteria. We are also planning to hold a protest if preferential treatment is given to a few select wrestlers. We are also trying to obtain permission to stage a sit-in at Jantar Mantar where the top wrestlers protested," he said.

Sujeet had won bronze in the U-20 World Championships last year apart from clinching gold in the Tunisia Ranking Series. He also finished on top of the podium in the 2022 U23 and Junior Asian Championships.

"He competed against Bajrang in the Commonwealth Games selection trials last year and lost narrowly. We will not mind losing once again during the Asiad trial but reserving the seat without bouts is not acceptable," insisted Dayanand.

Notably, 24 women wrestlers from Chhotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak had already written to the Prime Minister, Indian Olympic Association and ad-hoc panel demanding fair selection trials for the Asian Games.

A coach from one of the most reputed wrestling training centres of the country echoed the sentiment when questioned about the uncertainty over trial criteria and undue favours the panel reportedly wanted to give to a few top wrestlers.

"More than 10 wrestlers from our centres have been preparing for the trials for months now. This uncertainty has made them tizzy. Reports of some wrestlers getting direct quota have left these wrestlers in a state of despair. This should not happen as all of them have spent months preparing for this trial. It will be highly unfair on them if they are not given a chance to prove their mettle. If injustice is done then even we will follow the path once taken by the top wrestlers," the chief coach of the famous academy told this daily.

The waiting game by the panel is certainly making wrestlers and their coaches anxious and it would be no surprise if they take the streets to vent out their anger.

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The New Indian Express