On the eve of the Indian wrestling team's departure to Ontario (Canada) for the Commonwealth Championships and Canada Cup, a bombshell has been dropped on the grapplers — they will have to pay a whopping Rs 1.5 lakh each for the trip.
“The 14-member male contingent has been asked to dole out Rs 1.5 lakh per person for the 11-day trip,” said a top female grappler, on condition of anonymity. “We also have been asked to shell out a similar amount,” she said. “Most of us will not be able to make it.”
The mood among wrestlers camping at the Nehru Stadium residential wing was downcast, to say the least. “We have been made to look like fools. After the gruelling one-month camp, trials, the rigmarole of going through the visa formalities, we are told if we cannot pay we can't go," said another female wrestler, who did the country proud at the Doha Asian Games.
Confirming this, the president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) GS Mander said, “We are expecting administrative clearance from the government by this evening. The grapplers will have to pay from their pocket; there is no other alternative. The Federation is bankrupt and neck deep in debts, how can we fund the trip?
“The previous regime has left us with these debts which we have to get rid of first,” he said, adding that the prize-money in the two international competitions was quite good. “The winners can break even.”
The question, which now arises is, why did WFI dilly-dally in obtaining the government clearance, when it normally takes just 10 days? “We can only send the entries to the government once the selection trials are over,” was Mander's reply.
Knowing the government functioning, the trials could have been conducted earlier, which would mean that the names would have been sent earlier too. Apart from this, the federation should not have left it this late to inform the grapplers about paying up.
For the moment, the fate of the 21 wrestlers and their support staff (including coaches and masseurs) hangs in balance.
“Suppose I lose in the preliminary round and the government does not reimburse my expenses, where do I go?” asked another grappler who went to the Doha Asian Games. “First of all, I have to arrange Rs 1.5 lakh, that too when the banks have closed down for the day,” she said.
The first people to back out could be the coaches as it is an all-lose situation for them. Whatever happens with the team, they don't have any way of regaining the money. “What will we do without the coaches and masseurs?” a male wrestler asked.
“A similar thing happened before an invitational tournament in Sweden in April. The WFI officials (before the new body was elected) took Rs 3,500 from each of us for the visas but the trip never materialised.”
Incidentally, Indians have performed exceptionally well in the Commonwealth Championships previously, they even finished first on two occasions. Talk about wrestling being a priority sport!