doping scandal

Doping, sabotage, scandal: The Narsingh Yadav saga has turned Indian wrestling into a farce

From mysterious intruders to claims of vendetta, it’s the perfect potboiler, except the biggest loser is Indian sport.

Doping, sabotage, incrimination, spiked food. No, this is not the tagline of the Hindi film industry’s next potboiler. Less than ten days before the Olympics begin, Indian sport has been dominated, not by news of Indian medal prospects, but by a tale of doping and deception which has more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel.

Things have reached such an extent that it has become difficult to separate facts from speculation. But in case the entire furore has muddled things up somewhat, here’s a chronology of events:

  • Narsingh Pancham Yadav won the bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas. This gained India a quota place in the Rio Olympics for the same category, 74 kg freestyle wrestling.
  • Though the general trend has been to send the wrestler who won the quota place to the Olympics, Sushil Kumar, an Indian wrestling veteran and winner of bronze and silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, disputed that claim. He sought a final bout between him and Yadav to decide India’s representative at the Olympics and took his dispute to the Delhi High Court, which ultimately ruled against him.
  • On Sunday morning, the Director General of the National Anti-Doping Agency announced that Yadav had tested positive for a banned substance, which was later known to be methandienone, a steroid for building muscle. This test had been conducted on June 25; the wrestler was provisionally suspended for the Olympics and is facing a disciplinary hearing.
  • The 26-year-old claimed that he was a victim of sabotage, which was backed by the Wrestling Federation of India. In the meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association requested the world governing body of wrestling, United World Wrestling, to provisionally replace Yadav with 23-year-old Parveen Rana.
  • Yadav’s roommate at the Sports Authority of India Centre at Sonepat in Haryana also tested positive for doping. The Wrestling Federation of India latched onto this as more proof that there was a well-calibrated attempt to sabotage Yadav’s chances of representing the nation at Rio.
  • Yadav’s B-sample, taken on July 5, also returned a positive result.

A mysterious intruder

Now, this is where it all enters murky territory. From the beginning, Yadav has claimed that he has been a victim of conspiracy and even demanded a probe from the Central Bureau of Investigation. “Someone sabotaged my food supplements and maybe even water intake while I was training at the national camp in Sonepat ,” he said in an interview to the Times of India.

The Wrestling Federation of India have also backed him to the hilt, pointing out that Yadav had a clean record till now and that that the wrestler had complained to them in writing that a conspiracy was being hatched against him. Yadav has even filed a police complaint in Sonepat, accusing a junior wrestler of spiking his food.

Some reports, quoting anonymous sources, have emerged that mention that a person has already been identified as the one who spiked the food supplements. Supposedly, in June when Yadav was away for a training stint in Bulgaria, an unnamed-as-yet intruder infiltrated the SAI Centre in Sonepat and spiked Yadav’s food. The intruder has been described as a wrestler in the 65 kg category and the younger brother of an international wrestler. Yadav’s brother also stressed the point that the as-yet-unnamed wrestler belonged to Sushil Kumar’s akhada in Delhi, hence dragging Kumar back into the entire furore.

As of now, Kumar has been rather cryptic in his comments. He initially posted a tweet stating that respect should be earned and not demanded:

He then followed it up by posting another video where he said that he would always support fellow wrestlers:

His coach, Satpal Singh, however, rallied against the allegations that cropped up accusing them of the sabotage. “They are trying to show Satpal and his team did it, but we have nothing to do with this. Don’t level allegations against us without proof. If you have proof then come forward,” he said.

The biggest victim

Every day seems to draw new revelations. But the sobering fact that was somewhat overlooked is the impact this is having on Indian sport. There was much optimism in the air in the build-up to Rio about the fact that India were sending their largest ever contingent to the Olympics. Prospects of a medal were high and there was even an air of anticipation.

This controversy, coming as it has right on the eve of the Olympics, has dampened the prospects of not just wrestling, but Indian sport in general. One wonders what the impact of this unseemly furore has been on the rest of the Indian contingent to Rio, especially on Sandeep Tomar, Yogeshwar Dutt and the other Indian wrestlers. Even if Yadav is cleared of his doping charges, he has already wasted precious time over this matter. On top of that, the tremendous mental pressure that he has had to undergo is bound to take a toll.

And if Parveen Rava does go in his place, it would be too much to expect a good performance, considering the relentless spotlight he will be sure to be subjected to.

Right now, there are too many questions. Who was this intruder and what were his motivations? Why did Yadav not make the infiltration attempt public if he knew of it earlier? Now that both his doping samples have returned a positive result, will the NADA be convinced of the sabotage theory?

And as more questions crop up and the answers none too forthcoming, Indian wrestling prospects at the Olympics retreat ever so deeper into the distance.

For all the sports scores and reports, go to The Field.

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