CHENNAI: Another controversy seems to be brewing in Indian wrestling with Sports Authority of India (SAI) planning to shift the camp of Greco-Roman wrestlers from its Sonepat centre to the Lucknow national centre of excellence (NCOE). The decision apparently was taken to accommodate women wrestlers at the venue with the freestyle male wrestlers ahead of the Asian Championships scheduled in Astana, Kazakhstan from April 9 to 14. Notably, this newspaper has recently written about uncertainty over the women's camp.
However, the decision didn't go down well with the GR wrestlers, who have been training together with their freestyle counterparts for years. Not amused with the move, as many as 32 wrestlers, five coaches and three support staff from the style, met the executive director of SAI Sonepat centre on Thursday morning and requested her to avoid shifting their base. They also wrote to the director general of SAI requesting him not to shift the venue. The day-to-day affairs of the WFI are being looked after by the oversight committee of the sports ministry.
"Today executive director, NRC, Sonepat, informed that the Greco-Roman camp is being shifted from the venue. Both FS and GR wrestlers have always been training together as they get benefitted from it. Training together helps them in ground wrestling. It also provides them with different sparring partners. Overall, training together benefits them a lot," reads a letter mailed to the DG SAI, which is in possession of this daily. "We request you to organise camps for both styles together," adds the letter, which was signed by coaches, wrestlers and support staff.
It is learnt that the SAI took the decision after consultation with a few senior freestyle wrestlers. It has given two options to GR wrestlers — SAI centre either in Lucknow or Hisar. Interestingly, the Lucknow NCOE is meant for women. The SAI was planning to start the women's camp on March 20. The resistance by the GR grapplers, however, has now put the SAI in a fix.
"The centre here in Sonepat has enough mats. One hall has six mats while another has four mats. Anyway, the women wrestlers stay in a separate hostel so all three camps can be held here if freestyle male wrestlers want women's camp to be organised here. I don't understand why they want to shift GR camp that too ahead of the Asian Championships. This year is very important with Asian Games and Olympic qualifier scheduled at the end. It can affect the performances of GR wrestlers," a source privy to the development told this daily.
Notably, a few women wrestlers never wanted their camp to be held in Lucknow. Multiple World Championships medallist Vinesh Phogat even spoke against it while protesting at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi in January. The protest by eminent wrestlers, who accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment, forced the sports ministry to form an oversight committee to probe the allegations. The ministry also asked Singh to step aside till the completion of the probe. The wrestlers also wrote to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to constitute a panel and investigate charges against the WFI president.
Even as the protest began, most of the male wrestlers (FS and GR) started camping at Sonepat. Women's camp was scheduled to begin in Lucknow but had to be called off after the sit-in protests by the wrestlers in the national capital.
"Before the oversight committee took over from the WFI, the latter suggested SAI centre in Gandhinagar, Gujarat as an option for the women's camp. A SAI centre in Maharashtra was also discussed for the purpose. But it did not materialise," said another source keeping a tab on the development.
A final decision about the shifting of the GR camp has not been taken till the time of filing of this report. SAI could not be contacted for its comments on the issue. The issue could snowball as the GR wrestlers have threatened to stage a protest if their demands are not met.