There was an unusual rush at the Wrestling Federation of India office in New Delhi on Wednesday. India’s top wrestlers were in the office to meet the federation president Brij Bhushan Saran Singh. The reason? A day earlier, the federation sent a letter to all wrestlers and coaches that no athlete will be allowed to train outside the country when the national camp is on.

In the letter, the WFI made it clear that no request will be entertained to take support staff to other countries. The governing body reasoned that all the facilities including foreign coach, medical and support staff, food supplements and physios are provided in the national with help from the government.

Currently, around seven Indian wrestlers have put in request to train outside India while the national camp in going on in Sports Authority of India centres in Sonipat and Lucknow. Bajrang Punia just returned from his one-month training stint in USA while Pooja Dhanda, Sakshi Malik and Seema Bisla returned from Italy. Sandeep Tomar is still training in Russia.

Freestyle wrestler (not part of the national camp) Utkarsh Kale was training under Yandro Quintana. Two junior wrestlers Deepak Punia and Sajan Bhanwala have put in request to train outside of India while a female wrestler from Maharashtra, Reshma Mane, is already training in Azerbaijan under Yulia Ratkevitch.

The decision was taken at a recent meeting between the national coaches and the WFI officials. The issue was brought to notice after the United World Wrestling received a complaint from Italy federation – which hosted the Sassari ranking tournament in May – that Indian staff “created the most trouble.”

“This was second complaint to UWW. There was a complaint from Hungary as well some months back,” a WFI source added. “What happens is we send a contingent, then the wrestlers have their own physio or staff who demand accommodation and accreditation. The hosts cannot give those because they did not receive their names in official list.”

“We pay for everything to the host federation and then if a visa is rejected of their support staff, we lose the money and the host federation complains.”

Possible exception for Bajrang Punia

While the letter adds that a wrestler can go for training outside India only on special request, it looks like unlikely that the WFI will accept a request other than that of Bajrang Punia.

“Punia has given enough results and he continues to do so. He always has the same staff and coach going with him and is the biggest medal hope,” the source added.

Punia has won gold in his last three competitions and is expected to enter the World Championships in September as the top seeded wrestler, thanks to his world number one ranking.

WFI is miffed with the recent results of women’s wrestlers, especially from the Asian Championships and Sassari ranking tournaments.

Pooja Dhanda, who won bronze at the 2018 World Championships after beating Grace Bullen, returned with a silver from Italy after losing the final to the wrestler from Norway. Sakshi Malik returned empty-handed from the tournament after a dismal show at the Asian Championships.

Both Dhanda and Malik remained in Italy for a training camp after the competition and returned on June 5, two days after the national camp began.

“If someone is asking to train in Italy or France, why should be the request approved? Is there a wrestling pedigree in that country in freestyle?” the source said.

At the national camps, India has three foreign coaches, one for each style, but most of India’s top wrestlers have hired their personal foreign coaches and frequently train outside the country which leaves the national coaches training second string team.

The issue was brought up in a meeting by the Sports Secretary as he asked WFI why he should approve a longer national camp when most wrestlers are outside India.

Both the junior and senior national camps were delayed and only began on June 3.

“Just because you are privately sponsored doesn’t mean you can skip national camp. Target Olympic Podium scheme and government is not there to throw money. When wrestlers go out, they request to send physio, coach and training partner. If you are taking physios from private sponsors, why will government send them? Why should we have the national camp at all then? It is not a case of one wrestler. So many of them have random names,” a WFI official said.