Despite a tradition that spans centuries, it was Sushil Kumar's triumph at the Beijing Olympic Games that raised the stature of wrestling as a sport in India. With each passing year, the achievements kept piling up - in 2009, Ramesh Kumar ended the country's 42-year drought by winning bronze at the World Championships. The next year, Sushil became the first Indian to win the world title.
But despite the achievements, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has fallen some way behind its counterparts in establishing franchise-based leagues. But, the Indian Wrestling League (IWL), whenever it comes into being, will be the first to introduce a league for women.
Initially scheduled for a December-January launch, the IWL has been postponed till the fall of 2012 due to the unavailability of the wrestlers, as they are preparing for various qualifying competitions in order to book tickets to London.
Olympics a priority
"With the focus shifting to the Olympic qualifiers, we will now stage the league after the Games," says Raj Singh, secretary-general, WFI. "The event will be franchise based and teams will play their matches at different venues. We plan to host the opening round in Uttar Pradesh, since the sport has a huge fan following there, and end with the finals in New Delhi."
With the emergence of the IWL, the sport that is still confined to the hinterland, will get mileage with an additional dollop of entertainment to boot. Apart from changing the face of the sport, the league will prove to be a big morale booster for women wrestlers, as government sports quotas offer limited job opportunities to them. Also, unlike their male counterparts, they don't have the option of taking part in too many local tournaments which have money at stake.
"The IWL should raise the standard of women's wrestling and also help girls earn a decent living," says Monika Choudhary, a national-level coach. "Today, the country knows its male wrestlers, but with the advent of the league, India will also know its women," she says.
"It is a good initiative by the federation. Wrestlers will get the necessary exposure by competing in the league, which will also consist of foreign players. If we do it right, we can build a large following," says Sushil.
Each franchise will be spending around R35 lakh on the grapplers. They will be graded into three categories - A, B, C - according to their achievements.
"Now that boxing has its league, the boxers are getting due benefits. I think wrestling was the only Olympic sport left which needed this thrust," says Arjuna awardee Ramesh Kumar.