Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar was crowned the new national champion in the 74-kg category on Friday. It would have been termed as a great comeback for a man who was out of action of three years and wanted to prove a point to those who had written him off after his shoulder injury and forced him to sit out of the Rio Olympics by denying him a trial.
But what unfolded at the Senior National Wrestling Championship at Abhay Prashal Stadium in Indore has meant that Sushil is yet to prove that he is India’s best wrestler in the weight category. The manner in which he became the national champion can be termed more a political victory rather than a statement on the mat.
Sushil had qualified to represent his employers, Railways Sports Promotion Board, for the Nationals without a single bout after one of his opponents did not even turn up for the trials while the other gave him a walkover without fighting.
Procession of walkovers
While what transpired at the trials was expected, no one would have expected the procession of walkovers to continue at the Nationals. The 34-year-old needed less that a minute to win his first bout against Mizoram’s Lalmalsawma and took a minute and 45 seconds to stave off Mukul Mishra of Jharkhand in the second round.
Despite the easy wins, it was clear that the champion wrestler was rusty and that would have raised the hopes of the near capacity crowd of watching a few high quality bouts. Instead, Haryana wrestler Parveen simply touched Sushil’s feet and conceded the quarter-final.
If anyone thought that Parveen’s act was going to be an aberration, they were soon proved wrong as Sachin Rathi of Uttar Pradesh followed the same template in the semi-finals. Then, Sushil’s Railway teammate Praveen Rana, who had skipped the trial completely, once again gave him a walkover in the gold-medal round citing a thigh injury.
Given the one-day format of wrestling competition, cases of walkovers are pretty frequent when the grapplers are from the same team and the one more suited to go further in the competition is allowed to conserve their energy for the later bouts.
But in Indore, neither Parveen nor Rathi were competing for the same team as Sushil and his Railways teammate Rana had no such compulsion since they were contesting in the final. It is worth noting here that Rana, who was sent to represent India in the Rio Olympics after Narsingh Yadav failed the dope test, is a product of Sushil’s alma-mater, the Chhatrasal Stadium akhada, and only recently shifted his training base to Rohtak.
As things stand now, Sushil hasn’t proved himself in the 74-kg category in India after moving up from the 66-kg category in which he won the silver at 2012 London Olympics. He was sent to the 2014 Commonwealth Games without facing a trial on the basis of his pedigree and hasn’t competed since then.
Point to prove
Narsingh Yadav went on to win India’s quota for the 2016 Rio Olympics by bagging a bronze medal in the World Championship. Sushil did move the Delhi High Court seeking a trial against the Mumbai grappler to decide India’s entry but was denied the chance.
It’s a different story that Yadav himself was later banned for four years for a doping offence and Rana replaced him in the squad.
This is probably why Sushil was keen to prove a point at the Nationals and set the record straight as to his ability to dominate the 74-kg category in India. And with Yadav sitting on the podium, it was probably the best place for the country’s most decorated wrestler to showcase his dominance.
Sushil insisted that he came to Indore to fight and win, and not bag the National title in this manner. While the three wrestlers spoke about “respect” for the double Olympic champion for not contesting again him, they actually ended up showing disrespect to the sport and also to the man who had forged a legacy of his own with his performances on the mat.
Mizoram’s Lalmalsawma put things in the right perspective. “I don’t think it is right,” he was quoted as saying by espn.in. “You should not come to a tournament if you don’t want to wrestle. It isn’t as if I don’t respect him. I respect him so much. But that is the reason I had to wrestle him.”
The Wrestling Federation of India would do well to take appropriate action against them and ensure that such farce has little place in the sport hereafter.