The din around Sushil Kumar’s demand for selection trials is largely the cacophony of the ill-informed.
United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s governing body, spells out quite clearly that: “The NOCs/NFs (National Olympic Committees/Federations) will not be able to send other wrestlers in the weight categories in which they have already qualified a quota place.”
Thus, once Narsingh Yadav secured a quota place at the September 2015 World Championships held at Las Vegas, India had bagged its only participation possible in the 74 kg men’s freestyle weight division for the Rio Olympics. The rules do not allow for two wrestlers from the same nation in one category. Even if Sushil wanted to qualify for Rio on his own steam, he could not have.
Now, obviously the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is well aware of the rules. Therefore, it had no qualms in pushing for Sushil’s continued training under the government-funded TOP (Target Olympic Podium) programme. After all, while Narsingh qualified way back in September, the federation cleared Sushil to train in Georgia as recently as April. The wrestler was never told to back off from his efforts citing that there would be no trials.
To put things in context, Jordan Burroughs, the reigning world and Olympic champion and holder of an amazing record of 122-2, still underwent trials in April as the US finalised its wrestling squad. Any nation that believes in equality of opportunity would have to offer that option for Burroughs had been crowned champion in the same Las Vegas event where Narsingh earned India’s quota. The Vegas event happened to be the first tournament offering quota positions. After that no American wrestler, or for that matter an Indian one, could even appear at any of the events that offered Rio berths in 74 kg freestyle!
The lack of trials is a legacy, though flouted in myriad ways in the past, which spells more ignominy than anything else. There were hardly any strong challengers to the main men in their chosen weight divisions earlier. This time around, India has two men who square off pretty even against each other – at least on paper.
There is the experience of Sushil at 32 matched against the 26-year-old’s enthusiasm. Narsingh has the advantage of having fought in the category even as Sushil has ramped up from his earlier 66 kg. It will be interesting to find out just who is better to represent the nation.
That, however, is now in the judicial realm as the federation first dilly-dallied and then chose to run away from the gauntlet of holding trials. The Federation is citing its supposed tradition of sending only those who earn the quota. This is blatantly untrue. The only tradition in an Indian sports body is that the writ of the main man of the moment prevails.
As of now, the saddening bit is that no one seems to be really concerned about figuring just who is India’s best man to win a medal at Rio in 74 kg. That, after all, should be the only concern. The Olympics have to be about winning, India is no longer satisfied with mere representation.