WFI decision to cancel Olympic trials smacks of unprofessionalism: Vinesh Phogat - Hindustan Times
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WFI decision to cancel Olympic trials smacks of unprofessionalism: Vinesh Phogat

May 21, 2024 11:36 PM IST

The double Worlds medallist came down heavily on WFI's decision of not conducting a trial to pick the team for the Paris Olympics

Wrestling Federation of India's (WFI) decision to not hold any selection trials for upcoming Paris Olympics has come in for sharp criticism from Vinesh Phogat who has alleged that the move is a blow to 53kg wrestlers who were planning to challenge Antim Panghal for a spot in the Olympics-bound team. Unlike boxing where the quotas belong to the individual athletes who have won them, the quotas in wrestling belong to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

India wrestler Vinesh Phogat.((Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times))
India wrestler Vinesh Phogat.((Photo by Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times))

Phogat qualified for her third successive Olympics — this time in the 50kg class — last month at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Bishkek but her deicison to appear in two weight classes — 50kg and 53kg — at the selection trials (for Olympic qualifiers) in Patiala in March was a matter of much debate with allusions of the ad-hoc committee bending the rules for the double World Championships medallist.

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On Tuesday, WFI selection committee met in New Delhi and decided against the need to hold any more trials in a departure from their earlier stance. "Their stand was never clear. They have only created confusion for the wrestlers. First they drew a complicated selection procedure where a challenger was supposed to meet the quota winner. Now, they suddenly don't what that system. I don't know what's going on?" Phogat said.

"A lot of people criticised me when I trialled in two weight categories (50kg and 53kg) in March but I knew WFI will be up to some mischief later. That's why I participated in two weight divisions in Patiala. All this while, we were told there will be a trial but suddenly they announce there won't be any trial. Is it fair to the wrestlers who appeared in the 53kg trials?"

Antim Panghal won the quota for India in the 53kg category — Phogat's pet division — at the Belgrade World Championships last year but has not competed since the Hangzhou Asian Games in October. She was supposed to travel to Bishkek in April for Asian Championships but withdrew 10 days before the event citing the need to focus on her training for the Olympics.

Last year, Panghal along with 65kg freestyle wrestler Sujeet Kalkal had approached Delhi High Court against the ad-hoc committee's exemption given to Phogat and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia from the Asian Games trials. Phogat, however, injured her left knee before the Asiad and ruled herself out, meaning Panghal — who had won the trials and was pencilled in as a reserve — travelled to Hangzhou and came home with a bronze.

"Nobody knows where is the girl who won the 53kg quota," said Phogat, referring to Panghal. "We have been hearing she had an injury. No one is telling us the nature of the injury or when will she come back. Where is she now? I have been getting calls from other girls in her weight class who were dreaming of one chance to challenge her for the Olympics."

The 29-year-old also criticised WFI's decision to assess the qualifed wrestlers during the Hungary Ranking Series and in the camp that'll follow. The competition in Budapest is scheduled from June 6-9 and the training camp will be held from June 10-21.

"They also claim that coaches will assess the wrestlers in Hungary. This will cause more confusion among the wrestlers. We are still not sure whether or not we are going to Paris because they can change the names before the July 8 deadline," she alleged.

"All of this smacks of unprofessionalism and confusion. It appears that the WFI wants to keep us on the tenterhooks for reasons best known to them. If anyone will speak up, they will again malign them or take punitive action. WFI is a dummy organisation that still works on Brij Bhushan's directions. "

Bishkek qualifier was Phogat's first international event in the 50kg class in six years and the decorated wrestler is gradually slipping into the lightest Olympic weight class through a strict training and diet regimen.

"Weight management is really crucial. To come dow from 53kg to 50kg is not easy, but I am getting used to it. I am not having blackouts or cravings. I make sure I eat the right food in right quanitity whenever I am hungry. It is a very scientific process but eventually the body gets used to it," she said.

"The biggest challenge is mental, but as athletes, we are trained to do that. After the troubled year that I have had, I want to give my everything for Paris."

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