While I sympathise with Sushil for being led up the garden path, a trial demand vs Narsingh shouldn’t be entertained, writes Michael Ferreira
Let me start this piece by saying that I am an ardent fan of Sushil Kumar, who, with back-to-back medals in two successive Olympics has proved to be the finest wrestler the country has produced.
I was on the panel covering the London Olympics for a leading TV channel and we were privileged to see up close his incredible training regimen, peep into his private life and even savour his impish sense of humour when he responded to the charge that he had bitten an opponent’s ear.
Narsingh Yadav won a quota place for Rio with a bronze at the Las Vegas World C’ships last year. pic/afp
“Not true” he said puckishly, “I am a vegetarian”.
As everyone now knows, his chances of representing India for his third Olympics in a row are slender to non-existent despite taking the matter to Court.
The Wrestling Federation of India is strongly of the view that Narsingh Yadav, who won a quota place for India by winning a bronze medal at the World Championship in Las Vegas last year, should get the nod.
Sushil missed that event because of injury and has since been clamouring for a trial fight against Narsingh with the winner to go to Rio.
If the WFI succumbed to his pleas, not only would the established procedure of quota place winners being sent to the Games be jettisoned, but also a very unwholesome can of worms would be opened up.
Sushil has also bitterly complained that if the quota place was written in stone, the WFI should have informed him last year itself.
By allowing him to continue to train and spending about R75 lakhs under the Government scheme for training medal contenders, he has in effect been lulled into a false sense of security.
While I have great sympathy for the champion wrestler for having been led up the garden path so to speak, I am of the opinion that his demand for a trial fight against Narsingh cannot — indeed should not — be entertained.
Why cause chaos?
Otherwise, it would result in utter chaos in the selection process not only in wrestling, but also across the board.
Further, in the absence of malafides or patent illegality, if the courts were to interfere in the selection of aggrieved athletes, I respectfully submit it would amount to judicial overreach, not to mention the unnecessary additional burden on courts groaning under the weight of thousands of cases.
On merit, there are other reasons why Sushil’s case appears untenable.
He was at his imperious best in the 66kg category but this category does not exist in this year’s Olympics.
His musculature at 66kg was simply breathtaking. Being a short man, bulking up another eight kgs of pure muscle without impacting his mobility, speed and other relevant attributes is stretching it a bit.
He currently weighs 77kgs but other leading lights in the 74kg category weigh 80kgs at this point, and are much bigger and stronger.
They manage to trim down to 74kgs by various legitimate means just before weigh-in. Sushil’s experience at 74kg is very limited having wrestled in only one competition since his injury.
Narsingh, on the other hand, is a natural at 74kg and has been wrestling at that weight since 2008 with reasonable success, with bronze medals at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games being part of the story.
So, apart from the quota place, there are other substantial reasons for Narsingh to go to Rio. As pointed out, he is a natural 74kg wrestler.
He is bigger and taller than Sushil, which is a great advantage. It must be remembered that this category is to wrestling what the middleweight category is to boxing.
Be fair to Narsingh
It has, pound-for-pound, the best, strongest and most agile wrestlers in the world. His eight-year experience at that weight is four times more than Sushil’s.
In the run-up to the Olympics, it is extremely unfair on Narsingh to be distracted by such controversies.
He has won the quota; he has ticked all the other boxes; he should go.