On June 6, 2016, the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), dismissing wrestler Sushil Kumar’s plea to be considered for the Rio Olympics. Sushil Kumar had approached the court challenging the WFI’s decision to sponsor Narsingh Yadav ahead of him for the 74 kg Freestyle category at the upcoming Olympics and had demanded a trial among the wrestlers to settle the dispute. The two-time-Olympic medallist alleged that the WFI had disregarded his candidature to snub him for refusing participation in the profitable ‘Pro-Wrestling League.’ The Federation had earlier agreed to Sushil Kumar’s demand, bowing to his reputation but later thought better of it and retracted to supporting Yadav who has won the quota to represent India in the 74 kg Freestyle Wrestling Championship at Rio, Brazil.
Wrestling Federation of India has denied all allegations of bias towards the wrestler
Despite Sushil Kumar’s two-Olympic medals-studded career, he cannot be endorsed by the WFI and with good reason. Both his Olympic medals were won in the 66kg Freestyle category. Since then, wrestling weight categories have been revised ahead of the Rio Olympics. According to the new division, Kumar would graduate to the 74 kg weight category, in which he has never fought before. To add to his demerits, he hasn’t won any major tournaments since 2014. Yadav, on the other hand, fought at the World Championship in Las Vegas, just last year and secured a bronze medal. Additionally, he has been training meticulously and according to the WFI, conducting a trial merely three months away from a tournament as big as the Olympics could disturb the preparations and jeopardize India’s chance for a medal. Sushil Kumar had argued that the quota belongs to the country and not to an individual and the Federation can relent if it wants to.
The Federation has used the same reasoning to justify their move, saying that if the individual who has won the quota is in form to participate, no reason, not even a reputed Olympian’s challenge can be regarded, as the country’s interests are foremost. Sushil Kumar’s absence from major tournaments, national and international, also put him in a tough spot with the Federation. The odds kept stacking against him further as his physical fitness was questioned owing to a shoulder injury he had been nursing for long.
Sushil Kumar missed trials for Rio Olympics owing to a shoulder injury and had since been urging the Federation to conduct new trials. However, the Federation took a hard line stance in favor of Yadav stating that it had never occurred, neither nationally or internationally, that a wrestler who had won a quota for his country had been denied participation. Trials are a norm in other countries when it comes to selections. Therefore, Sushil Kumar’s demand is not extraordinary or extravagant. However, when this demand comes months before the tournament, when coaches, trainers, and the Federation are fully invested in making the best out of their prospects with Narsingh Yadav, and when the contender being rooted for is in no way disadvantaged, it is no surprise that Sushil’s request does not find many takers.
It may seem harsh to keep a decorated wrestler from competing for the most coveted sign in his sport. Still, it must be insisted that decisions for a tournament of this stature are above any individual’s interests and should be taken keeping the nation’s interest at the fore. In such a scenario, the Wrestling Federation’s decision to endorse the better-prepared Narsingh Yadav in place of Sushil Kumar is not only justified but rather welcome.