Madness. Or else, how does one describe the scene at the Sports Authority of India centre in Sonepat during the wrestling trials for the Commonwealth Games. The scene was akin to a movie running full house. There was hardly a vantage point that remained unoccupied. People were thronging the premises.
Some were squatting in and around the wrestling mat to get as close to the scene of action as possible; some were standing on chairs, while others were peering through windowpanes, watching from the narrow gallery on the first level. They were everywhere — thousands of them. Such was the size of the crowd that at one point of time the Wrestling Federation of India officials were thinking about shifting the trials to some other venue.
And all this to just get a glimpse of the stars. The craze was such that people had reached the venue on Saturday night. “Some of them have been here since yesterday,” said a SAI official. “Though we had to call the cops today, the crowd was knowledgeable and never interfered with the game.”
WFI secretary Kartar Singh said, “We can't let people get too close to the playing arena. It's not good for the grapplers. That's why we thought of shifting it out of here. But then the crowd got more organised.”
Talking about love for the sport in this part of the country, no one can tell us better than Olympic bronze-medallist Sushil Kumar, who was getting mobbed for photographs time and again. The champion grappler is so popular that he gets showered with gifts after he wins a championship or a bout. Some five months back, he was gifted a Tata Safari by a fan in Delhi. “This is what we call popularity of the sport in this part of the country,” said the wrestler who got an exemption from the trials. “Though the spectators come too close to the mat, they never interfere in the game. And, if they love your game, they shower you with gifts.” The Safari, he said, was gifted by a Delhi businessman.
As for the preparation for the Commonwealth Games, Sushil said, “It's become much better now. The government is providing us with everything. We have trainers and masseurs now and we sleep in AC rooms.”
As for the medal chances, Sushil said, “We have been preparing well and if everything goes according to plan, we should win four-five medals in men's freestyle. Even in Greco-Roman we will do well.”