New Delhi: World Championship bronze-medallist Bajrang Kumar has been left "heartbroken" after the SAI refused to bear his expenses for the Dave Schultz Memorial International tournament in Colorado Springs, saying the grappler can travel to the USA "at no cost to government".
The last-minute refusal by the Sports Authority of India to sanction Bajrang's travel, boarding and lodging expenses for the fortnight long training-cum-competition programme has robbed the promising grappler a chance to compete against the world's best under a new weight category, keeping Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championships in mind this year.
Bajrang got the shocking news from his federation hours before leaving for the airport to join his other teammates, who flew by an early morning (2am) flight today to the USA accompanied by chief national coach Vinod Kumar. The squad comprises Amit Kumar Dahiya, Sandeep Tomar, Rahul Aware, Amit Dhankhar, Praveen Rana, Pawan Kumar, Satyavrat Kadian and Rohit Patel for the January 30 to February 1 tournament and Bajrang's name was there in the first list.
When contacted, Bajrang was reluctant to speak on the matter as the talks between Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and SAI officials were still on to send the grappler to the USA. It has been reliably learnt that SAI secretary Neeraj Kansal has written a letter to the DG Jiji Thomson to consider his case under "special circumstances" and a separate meeting has also taken place between Bajrang's coach Yashvir Singh and Thomson.
"I came to know from the federation that I won't be travelling to the USA. Everything was ready, my visa and tickets and it was heartbreaking news for me. I don't know what has happened. I have been told by sir (coach Yashvir) that I will be sent to the USA shortly. I want to go there and compete," Bajrang told PTI.
Bajrang's tickets were cancelled last night after WFI got the letter from the SAI. An official in the know of the development said that WFI had initially drawn a list of 12 grapplers for the US tourney which was later pruned to 10 and finally to eight after SAI refused to bear the cost of wrestlers, who did not participate in the Nationals and Commonwealth Championships last year.
"Out of the 12 grapplers, Sandeep, Rahul, Dhankhar, Praveen, Pawan, Satyavrat and Rohit participated in the Nationals and Commonwealth championships," the official said. "Sushil Kumar, Bajrang, Yogeshwar Dutt, Amit Dahiya and Narsingh Yadav did not participate. After SAI's refusal to fund these athletes, WFI dropped the names of Sushil, Yogeshwar and Narsingh.
It wouldn't have looked good not to send those players who participated throughout the year in all tournaments. "Sushil opted out of travelling as he wanted to spend some more time with his newborns, Yogeshwar due to his Haryana police examination papers and Narsingh due to his training issues. Sushil and Yogeshwar's names could be considered at a later stage for the US tourney as they are Olympic medallists and SAI won't be having any problem in considering their case," said the official.
He said post FILA's re-jigging of weight classes, Colarado Springs tournament will have eight weight classes and SAI was of the view that they would send only one wrestler for each category. "WFI submitted a fresh list of grapplers to SAI which comprised nine names including Dahiya and Bajrang. Both did not participate in nationals held in Kolkata but WFI persisted with their names. SAI stuck to its stand of allowing eight grapplers and finally WFI included the name of Dahiya into the list and left out Bajrang.
"However, they requested SAI to consider Bajrang's name as he is a bronze winner in the world championship and a bright medal prospect for India in the CWG and Asian Games," the official added. A WFI official, on the condition of anonymity, said this was the first time SAI had acted in such a manner.
"Sports ministry had allocated Rs 13 crore as wrestling budget for the financial year 2013-2014 to the SAI and the sports body has enough money left from our budget to send a player of Bajrang's repute to the US tourney. This is not fair. This tournament costs 4-5 lakh per person. WFI can't bear this much amount on its own," he said.