Indian Olympic Association ad-hoc panel decides on one-bout trial for six protesting wrestlers

The ad-hoc panel is required to hold the Asian Games trials before July 15, which is the deadline to send the details of all Indian squads to the organisers.
(From L to R) Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat. (Photo | Express)
(From L to R) Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat. (Photo | Express)

NEW DELHI: The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) ad-hoc panel has reduced the upcoming Asian Games and World Championship selection to a one-bout competition for six protesting wrestlers, who will be required to beat just the winners of the trials to seal their places in the Indian teams for the two prestigious events.

The six wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Sangeeta Phogat, Satywart Kadian and Jitender Kinha have not just got the exemption from appearing in the initial trials, but they have also been promised that they will compete against the winners of the trials between August 5 and 15.

Interestingly, the wrestlers had requested the Sports Ministry to allow them to appear in the Asian Games trials in August because they are under-prepared for the competition due to their long-drawn protest against outgoing Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is facing sexual harassment charges.

Elite wrestlers like Bajrang and Vinesh have been given exemptions by WFI from full trials in the past to protect them from injuries but never ever Sangeeta Phogat, Satyawart Kadian and Jitender Kinha were considered for such a favour.

The ad-hoc panel is required to hold the Asian Games trials before July 15, the deadline to send the details of all Indian squads to the organisers.

By conducting the initial trials, the IOA will be able to send wrestlers' names to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) within the July 15 deadline but it can later replace the entries if protesting wrestlers end up beating the winners of the initial trials.

Bajwa explains decision

Ad-hoc panel head Bhupender Singh Bajwa communicated the decision to the wrestlers on June 16.

"The trial of these wrestlers will be conducted with the winners of the respective weight categories for Asian Games/World Championships Olympic qualification trials conducted for participation if done previously," the letter read.

The IOA had approached the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) on June 16, seeking an extension of the July 15 deadline for submitting 'entries by names' for the Indian wrestling team.

IOA itself had asked all National Sports Federations (NSFs) to provide the details of their respective squads by June 30 so that it can honour the OCA deadline without any fuss.

OCA is yet to respond to the IOA request if the details of the Indian wrestling squad could be submitted on August 15.

When Bajwa was contacted for a comment on the exemption given to the six wrestlers, he did not give a clear answer.

Bajwa said, "It will all depend on OCA's reply. Maybe the OCA will allow us to hold all trials in August, then it's not a problem. The Asian Games and World Championship dates are clashing, there is a small gap of just 5-7 days between the two events."

"A few wrestlers are preparing for the Asian Games and others for World Championship. A few want to win Asian Games medals and others want to qualify for the 2024 Olympics through World Championship. August 16 is the date to send names for the World Championships. I feel these kids (protesting wrestlers) are more keen to compete in the Worlds," he added.

In the previous WFI set-up also, top wrestlers like Bajrang, Ravi Dahiya and Vinesh used to get similar exemptions from trials.

In the most recent past, Bajrang and Ravi were handed direct semifinal entries into the Commonwealth Games trials.

Decision raises questions 

"It was being portrayed that the protest was to bring about a change in Indian wrestling. But I fail to understand, how. The same things are being repeated. A few wrestlers are getting favours. Earlier, it was WFI which was favouring these wrestlers by giving them exemptions and now this ad-hoc body," said the father of a wrestler.

"Anyway, what can we do about it? We are ready for a fight. But it is not fair that these wrestlers compete in just one bout and our children have to go through a full draw. These top wrestlers just want the cream of everything," he added.

Meanwhile, an official who was associated with the previous WFI set-up, said, this move further proves their point that the top wrestlers all the time want to skip trials.

"They always had a problem with WFI's fair policies. They never wanted to come to the Indian team through trials. We honoured their unjustified demands because they are top wrestlers but they are still making the same demands. It proves our point, they want to control over WFI matters," said the official, who did not wish to be named.

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