Thursday, September 23, 2021

India grapple with wrestling selection dilemma


Since winning India’s quota place by capturing a bronze medal at last year’s World Championship in Las Vegas, Narsingh Yadav had more or less taken his ticket to Brazil for granted.

With the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) also backing the 26-year-old, it seemed his place was certain until double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar approached the Delhi High Court on Monday demanding a match between the pair to determine who should compete in Rio.

“As asked by the court, we heard Sushil and noted his point. We’d submit our observations and will wait for the court’s instruction,” WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar told Reuters on Thursday.

Wrestling maintains a low-profile in cricket-obsessed India but the selection conundrum has snowballed into a crisis, largely because of Kumar’s lofty stature in the world’s second most populous country.

The 32-year-old has been the face of Indian wrestling since winning the 66kg freestyle bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games, which he upgraded to a silver four years later in London.

Kumar is the only Indian athlete to win two individual Olympic medals but his hopes of a third hit a stumbling block with his move into the 74kg category, the same as Yadav, who is desperate to step out of his illustrious compatriot’s shadow.

With only one quota place per country available in each weight division, the duo are now locked in an unsavoury tussle, though Yadav remains the likely man to fly to Rio.

“We follow the tradition of sending whoever has earned the quota. Now if we allow a trial in one category, it might lead to chaos with similar demands in other categories,” Tomar said by telephone.

“We feel a trial would be an injustice to Narsingh. The whole episode has already put him under pressure and with only two months to go, Narsingh is peaking at the right time and an injury in a trial would undo all that hard work.”

Also unhappy with the scenario but for different reasons, Kumar has questioned the logic behind the government funding his overseas training when Yadav was always the unanimous choice for Rio.

“Well, the government has been spending on Narsingh’s training as well. It’s not a question of Sushil or Narsingh. Nobody can undermine Sushil’s contribution but there should not be an injustice to Narsingh either,” Tomar added.

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