India may be basking in the glory of grappler Sakshi Malik’s medal in Rio, but back in Bengal a 135-year old wrestling club is waiting for months for an elusive “no objection” letter from the state government to move under Sports Authority of India (SAI) patronage.
Six months ago SAI agreed to sponsor one of Bengal’s oldest wrestling clubs, Panchanan Bayam Samity, but the letter from the Bengal government was mandatory.
Asit Kumar Saha (65) secretary of the club is running from pillar to post but is yet to get even a reply to his communication.
“Till date none even bothered to reply to us on the part of the state government. After SAI agreed to sponsor our club, I wrote to the sports secretary. All we need is a no objection letter from the state government. We have no alternative other than meeting the chief minister,” Asit Kumar Saha, secretary of the club and vice president of Bengal Olympic Association, told HT.
Significantly, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was one of the politicians to quickly send out a congratulatory message to Haryana girl Sakshi Mailk when she won the country’s first medal in Rio Olympics.
“SAI coming forward to sponsor us will mean a good wrestling mat, costumes and shoes that many cannot afford. The boys and girls who have come here to learn the sport will also get proper food, which is beeyoond the reach of most as they almost always come from poor families. I do not know how long we can continue without support,” said Saha.
Bengal has about a dozen wrestling clubs, but not one has SAI sponsorship. On the contrary most of the clubs in Punjab and Haryana are sponsored by SAI. Ironically, Panchanan Bayam Samity is the most well equipped of the Bengal clubs, yet a visit to Panchanan Bayam Samity in a dingy lane in Jorabagan in north Kolkata reveals a tale of all round neglect.
Worse, it is the only club in the state to have a mat. In the rest of the clubs -- or akhara, as they are popularly called -- the grapplers practice on bare earth.
About 22 girls and 50 boys practise in this club that is located in a dingy lane. This club has residential facilities which consists of 7 ft X 8 ft rooms for seniors and a dormitory. The rest sleep on the wrestling mat.
There is no modern gym facilities either. The wrestlers practice with traditional wrestling clubs or ‘mugurs’.
Even with this pathetic infrastructure, down the years Panchanan Bayam Samity has produced wrestlers who have won 36 golds in national and 12 in international competition.
The club was established in 1881. It now runs with the help from a handful of patrons and the Saha family’s financial contributions.
“K D Yadav who won the first individual medal in 1952 Helsinki Olympics used practise here,” said Saha.
“No one approached me. Please ask the authorities to meet me and I will enquire into the matter and take immediate action,” said Syed Ahmed Baba, state sports secretary.
However, neglect is not new to this wrestling club. In 2013 it organised a national tournament in Kolkata where Madan Mitra, former sports minister, came as a guest. Impressed by the performance, Mitra granted Rs 5 lakh, but it was buried in files and never reached the club.
Runu Ghoroy, 28, who is a coach said that equipments are getting costlier by the day. “The equipments are expensive, and we need a proper multigym. The dummy we use is old and overweight. We just have seven rooms and its doors are falling out,” said Ghoroy.
“Is the government waiting for us to get a medal, and only then will they help us? We want the help now so that we can get the medal. We don’t need help after we win a medal,” said Pinky Sasmal, 24, a national level wrestler practising here since 2009. She hails from Liluah in Howrah and her father is a fish vendor.
“It is difficult for us to continue in this sport but somehow we are managing. We are taking everyday as it comes. It started as a self defence urge for me, but now I am readying for national tournament in November,” said 21 year old Nabanita Das who also hails from Howrah.