On one hand, a Bollywood film that documented the struggles and the success that followed in a wrestling family went on to collect more than 300 crores at the box office.
At ground zero, though, this is how the sport is treated: A feeble attempt at trying to enhancing one’s own popularity. Clearly, stacks of the Ramdev-patented Patanjali products staring at us from the shelves of the supermarkets was not enough. We needed to know about its superpowers.
Facing up against Ramdev was Andrey Stadnik, a silver medalist in Beijing 2008. In an Indian contest, he is someone who two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar struggled to beat.
Clearly, there was not an ounce of effort from Stadnik. This is not the first time one has come across sportsmen being dragged into promotional stunts against their will. Usually, its a few kicks during half-time during a football match. If it’s a cricket match, the celebrity guest bowls or bats for an over or two in jest.
Here is the catch: The organisers were keeping score the Ramdev-Standnik duel. With Stadnik sportingly playing along, the yoga guru romped to a 12-0 win.
On social media, the reactions were mixed. While most of them saw the event for what it was: A meaningless activity, possibly to promote yoga. However, there were a handful of them who thought that the bout was contested in all seriousness.
The chest-thumping nationalism that was woven into the two recent B-town blockbusters that centered around wrestling did work for the sport somewhat. The arenas have been packed despite the delay in getting the event underway. There was chopping and changing with the teams too, in this season’s Pro Wrestling League. But, the interest levels have only been on the rise.
The Phogat sisters and Rio Olympics bronze medal winner Sakshi Malik were received with rapturous applause from the crowd, even when they were far away from the mat. It would not be far-fetched to think that Olympic champion Erica Wiebe spent a major part of her time in India posing for selfies with wide-eyed fans.
Imagine Ramdev strutting out on the cricket field and bowling Virat Kohli around his legs with a scorching leg-spinner that would make Shane Warne’s feat against Mike Gatting look schoolboy-ish. Certainly, this a stunt that the sport could have done without.
What about the long-term impact of it? There is an impressionable, young population who lap up almost everything they watch on television. The script-based World Wrestling Entertainment commanding such a loyal fan base is a case in point.
Will yoga be able to replace thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears? Poor Stadnik and the event’s image has been tainted with this shambolic excuse of a narcissistic gimmick. Ramdev can be excused, though. He did say “Bharat mata ki jai” after “humbling” the former European Championships winner, after all.
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