There was a feeling of invincibility to the likes of Master Chandgiram, Kartar Singh and Satpal Singh when they used to take the wrestling arena at the Asian level. It is said that Chandgiram had so much strength in his hands that he could humble any opponent if he got a good grip.
No wonder, they were a force to be reckoned with in continental championships — especially the Asian Games.
Times have changed — these legendary wrestlers used to fight for the prestige of the country, now officials grapple for their own prestige. At one time, akharas used to flaunt their best wrestlers in front of thousands of adoring spectators — now infighting in the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has virtually killed the sport.
As Doha 2006 beckons, one cannot imagine any wrestler — except, maybe, Palwinder Cheema, who won a bronze in Busan four years ago — bringing those glorious days back.
The year began on a pathetic note, with a new low — actually, it is a matter of debate whether last year was any better — with the stalemate over who would run the WFI. A parallel body, allegations and counter allegations, law suits and more law suits, an Indian Olympic Association-instituted ad hoc body, a retired judge taking over the reins of the WFI — the sport has lurched from one controversy to another. The only bright spot was the Indian senior team finally managing to take part in the Worlds in China, and a tiny girl — Alka Tomar — returning with a bronze.
The Sports Ministry too did not help matters by sending six over-the-hill grapplers under their "talent search scheme" to the US for long training stints. After they came back, they were humiliated by lesser-know grapplers in the national trials that also doubled up as the Open Nationals a few weeks back. After two full years of inertia, only a couple of bouts were enough to judge the wrestlers and select the Asian Games team.
In Doha, it would be a surprise if these wrestlers can last even two bouts in their respective categories. The officialdom then would end up with more mud on its face.