Under-23 wrestling nationals amid muddy water, surging crowds
- The apathy of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) was stark. Its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who watched the bouts on Saturday, had only recently spoken about giving the wrestlers best facilities.
Wrestling contributed two of India’s seven medals at the recent Tokyo Olympics, and the least the next generation of talent can expect is good infrastructure to train and compete. Those taking part in the under-23 national championships in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh though can’t get their hopes high.
One has to wade through a puddle of slush to enter the competition venue. The conditions are no better inside the makeshift tent at the Sainik School in Kauharganj, where India’s budding wrestlers compete on three mats, beside a large pool of stagnant water.
The apathy of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) was stark. Its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who watched the bouts on Saturday, had only recently spoken about giving the wrestlers best facilities.
WFI had even said the Tokyo Olympics success would spur a new era in Indian wrestling, with the Uttar Pradesh government adopting the sport for the next 10 years at a function in Lucknow last month and the federation getting more support from its sponsors. But the reality of this new vision for more medals looked bleak at the under-23 nationals.
WFI blamed the poor conditions at the venue on the heavy rains on Friday. “Things were superb as all arrangements were in place till Thursday, but the rain-storm spoiled almost everything, leaving most of the space water-logged, and everything went beyond our control,” WFI assistant secretary, Vinod Tomar, said.
“An indoor hall for this event could have been a better option, but this wasn’t our choice as we were given the opportunity to hold this event here as part of the Amrit Mahotsava celebration on the occasion of India’s 75th year of Independence,” he said.
The venue was buzzing with big crowds and Covid protocols went for a toss. Nobody was wearing masks and no physical distancing was maintained. It looked more like a political rally—
the 3-km stretch from Gauriganj crossing to the newly-built school in Kauharganj was decorated with big hoardings, banners and cutouts of political leaders. Over 1,000 fans crowded around the competition mats. Top politicians and state ministers were present.
The tents adjoining the competition area were blown away in heavy winds and the organisers quickly organised things, including three AC rooms for the VIPs.
The wrestlers though had no space even to prepare for their bouts. “There is no space for warm-up; it is all because of rain water that has flooded the place,” said a women wrestler on condition of anonymity. “We are getting good stay and food though. We are used to such arrangements at national championships, we have seen even worse situations in the past at nationals.”
Only last month, WFI had refused top wrestlers from having personal sponsors like JSW and OGQ saying the federation will provide them all help.
“These organisation just pose themselves as the real promoters of sports in India. Go and see the JSW’s academy near Bengaluru, you won’t get to see even a single top wrestler there. They are just salesmen of wrestlers,” said Tomar.
He said 30 gold medallists from the U-23 nationals, 10 each in Greco-Roman, freestyle and women, will represent India in international championships.
At the event, fans climbed on chairs to watch the action. “Look at the crowd here, kids, women and even old people, watching our wrestlers. They might not know about the sport but are here to show their support to the local MP and union minister, Smriti Irani Ji,” said Kaushal Singh, who was present at the venue.
He praised the organisers. “Even in the odd conditions, they did great in holding the championships on time. Stay, food and transport arrangements for near about 1,000 people, including wrestlers, officials, who have come from all parts of the country, are of top quality. I don’t see anyone having some problem.”