India at Rio 2016: Sushil Kumar or not? The Wrestling Row Explained


Wrestling is considered one of the most historic sports in India and so did we have such a past.

It all started when Kshabha Dadasaheb Jadhav (The only Indian Olympic medalist to have never received a Padma Award) who won a bronze in Bantamweight category, wrestling at the 1952 Helinski Summer Olympics picking up the first individual medal for independent India at the Olympics. The glory did not last long enough as Indian wrestling failed to win any medals just until 2008 when Sushil Kumar won a Bronze in the 66 kg freestyle wrestling at Beijing. At the very next edition of the games at London in 2012, not only did Sushil improve his medal to Silver but also Yogeshwar Dutt ended up in the medal winners with a bronze.

With the latest edition of the games to be held at Rio 2016 ready to start from August 5th, wrestling in India has topped the headlines in the sports sections of Indian dailies in the recent times with many controversies surrounding the sport ahead of the most prestigious sporting festival.

All the talk began with the suspension of four wrestlers from participating in the 2nd Olympic Qualification Tournament at Istanbul, the last option for the wrestlers to book olympic berths, which just concluded a week ago, shutting doors for them. The news took up more importance when it was known that 2 out of the 4 athletes are from the infamous Phogat family, who boast of providing the nation with 4 daughters representing India.

The action was taken against Gita Phogat, who represented India at London 2012 and her sister Babita Kumari, both of them who contest in the women’s 55kg Freestyle category and Sumit (men’s 125kg freestyle) and Rahul Aware (men’s 57kg freestyle) handing them a temporary ban citing act of indiscipline they exhibited during the 1st World Qualification tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. While in the tournament, Gita and Babita forfeited their matches after being sure of not qualifying, Sumit had a chance of winning a qouta for India in the men’s 125kg freestyle event, yet he did not fight the repechage and the next 2 bouts citing injury.

“All these wrestlers have shown indiscipline at the last tournament. Even if you want to forfeit your bout or have injury concern, there is a way and procedure to officially withdraw. But these wrestlers did not bother to follow any proper procedure. This reflects very poorly on their as well the country’s part. The world body has also debarred them from the next competition,” said the official.

Even with all the controversies moving around the wrestling world, Indian wrestlers put up a good show at the Istanbul event creating history when 21yr Phogat sister Vinesh Phogat (Women’s 48kg Freestyle) and Sakshi Malik (Women’s 58kg Freestyle) sealed their spots, making it just the first time in Indian history that two women are going to represent India in wrestling at the mega event.

Apart from these, India has a total of 6 quotas won overall. Adding to Indian joy are 2 others Babita Kumari (Women’s 53kg Freestyle) and Ravinder Khatri (Men’s 85kg Greeko-Roman), who failed to book their quotas through Qualification Tournaments, have finally booked their tickets to Rio as their opponents at the Asian Qualifiers were found to be dope. The others to have made stakes for India through securing quotas are- Sandeep Tomar (Men’s 57kg freestyle), Yogeshwar Dutt (Men’s 65kg freestyle), Narsingh Yadav (Men’s 74kg freestyle) and Hardeep (Men’s 98kg Greco-Roman). This contingent creates history with 8 members, 3 more than the 5 at London and also creates an inspiration for young India with 3 women wrestlers (most ever from India) contrary to just Geetha Phogat at London, who is missing out this time.

The main controversy is here! Did you see that Sushil Kumar, the standout man’s name is not mentioned in the squad, because he hasn’t won a quota nor did he participate in the Qualification Tournaments. The Federation is in a fix about the 74kg freestyle category whether it should be Narsingh Yadav who has won the Olympic Quota for India and is in ultimate form and fitness with 9 event participation and a top 5 finish in all of them since the first round exit in London 2012 or should be the legendary only Indian with 2 individual Olympic medals Sushil Kumar? Should there be trails to give a chance to the injury hit Sushil Kumar to prove his fitness and prove that he is the best wrestler in the country or should the Wrestling Federation of India follow the regular tradition of sending in the player who won the quota for the nation?

Narsingh Yadav demands his selection for bringing the quota whereas Sushil Kumar boasts of his achievements and is very confident to win a Gold this time at Rio. The main drawback against the double time Olympic medalist is that he is competing in a new weight category 74kg as his actual group 66kg has been eliminated from the Olympics.

The stalwart has missed out on the World Championship where Narsingh won the bronze and the quota, due to a shoulder injury. He then took time to adjust to the new weight category and went on to participate in CWG Glasgow 2014. He only took part in 2 tournaments prior to this Olympics contrary to the 8 he took part before the London Olympics to get the silver. In the 74kg category, he has won a Bronze in Italy and a Gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, whereas his counterpart Narsingh has won bronze medals at the Asian Championship, Asia Games 2014 and is currently the world number 5.

Narsingh also has another advantage that he has not been anywhere near injuries and is in top form in the last 2 years. The two wrestlers were onto a bout only once in the past when Sushil just had a try in the 84kg category and Sushil won the match.

The sports authorities have split on this issue. Some in support of Sushil sight that even the 74kg World Champion Jordan Burghos (USA) was asked to go through the trials before being included into the team to Rio. If we take a look back in history, such incident took place in 2004, when Yogeshwar Dutt won the quota for India and was selected by the federation to the Olympics. Krupa Shankar Patel was then a better wrestler in the same category took to the court with the argument that quota was related to the nation and not individual, so trials should be held.

The Federation stated that the individual who had won the quota for the nation would be sent to the Olympics if he is fit and is in form and the Delhi High Court was in agreement with the status. Now, in this case, Sushil Kumar as an individual has a higher stake, so the federation is yet to take a stance whether to have trails or not.

With so many points to be considered, the federation has not taken any decision about the 8th member of the Wrestling team to Rio. The deadline stays at 18th July and so the wait is still on!

Photo by The U.S. Army