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Crisis at home but all set for US party

Indian wrestling has been crying out for one ? just one ? National camp for the last one year, writes Ajai Masand.
None | By Ajai Masand, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 28, 2006 03:31 AM IST

Indian wrestling has been crying out for one — just one — National camp for the last one year. They haven’t got it. But suddenly, out of the blue, through the collective wisdom of the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), a group of five grapplers and two coaches are being sent to Colorado Springs, US on a 45-90 day, all expenses paid sojourn. Apparently, so they can prepare for major international events in the near future. And all that at an approximate cost of about Rs 45 to 50 lakh to the exchequer!

What makes this strange decision even stranger is that of the five grapplers, three are over-the-hill with little chance of a successful international comeback. And sadly, this is happening even as hundreds of wrestlers anxiously wait for some exposure at the national level — lying in a state of torpor due to the turmoil in the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

It indeed is a travesty of justice that only a chosen few (why they are “the chosen” is another matter) be sent as part of the Talent Search and Training Scheme of the Government to hone their skills abroad.

“Yes, the US trip has been cleared under the Talent Search and Training Scheme at the Selection Committee Meeting of the Sports Ministry (held on June 6) and the wrestlers could leave as early as the end of this month,” said the SAI Project Officer for wrestling Satish Rana.

When asked how the selection was made without any national trial or assessment of the grapplers’ fitness, he said: “The selections had been made on the basis of their performance till May 2005 (when the WFI went into a state of turmoil, being replaced by an Indian Olympic Association ad hoc body sometime in August).” Obviously, the current physical condition of the wrestlers counts for nothing!

If that was not enough, the Ministry has also approved a personal coach (Mahabir Prasad) for Dharmender Dalal at a cost to the Government of Rs five lakh. The Committee has also approved financial assistance to Shokinder Tomar, Ravinder Kumar and his coach Gyan Singh, Anil Mann and Kripa Shankar.

It is a known fact that Shokinder, Shankar and Mann, despite their exploits at the domestic level, are at the fag end of their careers and clearing them under ‘Talent Search Scheme’, envisaged at rooting out young talent, makes no sense.

A senior SAI official said on condition of anonymity that organising a national camp before the Asian Games would have been in the fitness of things as it would have helped the entire wrestling fraternity and not just a few.

But with the internal SAI politics — basically in the powerful ‘Teams Wing’ -— holding precedence over everything else, sport seems to be the loser. All the recommendations come from the Teams Wing and the Ministry clears or rejects them.

A recent order by the Executive Director (Teams) — due to retire at the end of this month — to Project Officers of various sports disciplines to bypass the Directors and Deputy Directors and report directly to him, is causing bad blood in the SAI and these clearances could probably be the offshoot of such infighting.

The case of Graeco-Roman grappler Mukesh Khattri, who was sent on a 45-day stint to Colorado Springs, US before the 2004 Athens Olympic Games but was eliminated in the first round at Athens is a case in point of how beneficial these costly foreign sojourns could be.

Possibly, the root cause of all ills lies here.

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