Slow, a bit sluggish even… Yogeshwar Dutt was just not at his best in the 65kg freestyle bout against Mongolia’s Mandakhnaran Ganzorig on Sunday. From the opening locks and counter moves, Dutt appeared to be slowing things down, trying to use power rather than speed to win points. That hints at the wrestler being in discomfort at some level. Ganzorig, on the other hand, didn’t make it past the quarter-finals; an indication of how far behind Dutt was as a medal contender.
However, Dutt’s quality in comparison with the rest of the field is not the question here. After seeing him drag through the 0-3 loss, one was left wondering whether he was 100% fit.
There have been persistent rumours that the 33-year-old has been struggling with injuries and had an issue with his knee. If that is true, then it is about time we raised a few questions about the wrestling federation’s selection policy for the Games.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), through erratic and unprofessional calls, made a mess of the Narsingh Yadav doping issue. It resulted in India having no representation in the 74kg freestyle division. Dutt’s performance on Sunday hints that India fielded a wrestler who was not fully fit, and a few months back, the WFI almost prevented medallist Sakshi Malik from qualifying for the Games.
It seems the federation is letting go of the momentum the sport gained in the last eight years, after Sushil Kumar’s bronze in Beijing.
Given that our wrestling federation had taken the stand that only those who earned Olympic berths would participate, there really wasn’t any room for holding Dutt back. He had flown to the Spanish GP in July — a tournament the wrestlers took part in as part of the build-up for Rio — just a couple of days after a back injury. Dutt then lost to a Cuban who did not even make it to the Olympics.
The main reason why the world body, United World Wrestling, has a rule that the qualifier berth goes to the country and not to the wrestler who won it, is largely on account of the nature of the sport. Wrestling is injury prone and form dip and rise can happen in a matter of months. As such, most of the sport’s powerhouses hold trials to send the best wrestler for the Games.
If Dutt had injury issues and has slowed down, why not send Amit Dhankar, who is younger. A trial would have ensured the best and fittest wrestler travelled to Rio. Dhankar, who was Asian champion in 2013, may have fared better too.
The whole controversy over Sushil Kumar’s participation in the Games stemmed from dirty politicking rather than merit. A two-time Olympic medal winner was not given a chance to try and qualify as the world body rules don’t allow for participation in quota tournaments if the country has already earned a berth in a particular weight category.
Yadav had earned the berth for India in the 74kg at the World Championships last year.
A trial should have been Sushil’s right but Yadav has just too much political backing for that to happen. The case of Yadav being subsequently caught in a dope test shows just how sordid the wrestling underbelly of India is.
Yadav claimed that his food had been tampered with and that assertion bears weight given that the steroid he allegedly used couldn’t have helped him perform better in Rio. His claim of sabotage needs to be further examined. For, as Yadav told officials in the village, “Jo mere saath hua hai, woh hatya se be bardkar hai (what’s been done to me is worse than death).”
It’s just unbelievably crazy that an athlete who has devoted all his life to his sport should be sitting out just because there wasn’t adequate monitoring of what was fed to him.
Then, there was the asinine insistence on sending Yadav despite clear indications that the World Anti Doping Agency was in no mood to be lenient this time around. With the Russian dope scandal and a blanket ban on the country’s athletes, WADA would never have let Yadav through, given the massive clampdown on dope in the sporting world.
Parveen Rana was to be the replacement for Yadav but he was not sent and, as such, another young wrestler lost out on exposure.
MALIK MIX UP
The case of bronze medallist Malik is almost as bad. She was not allowed to take part in the first qualifying event for Rio where federation favourite, Geeta Phogat, was sent. Subsequently, Phogat had to be suspended for disciplinary issues and that gave Malik a chance.
Now, had Phogat got the berth in her first attempt, Malik wouldn’t have gone to Rio.
The wrestling federation has not been on the ball and its motives have been suspect. It has played favoritism and has not shown inclination to evolve with the growing depth of the sport in India. Its obstinacy may well have cost us a medal or two in Rio.