Indian wrestlers in a quandary, depleted team for Zagreb event

A depleted Indian wrestling team will participate in the year’s first international event — Zagreb Open Ranking Series — from January 10-14. India will have wrestlers in only 13 of the 18 Olympic divisions in an event that is crucial to determine seedings for the two upcoming Paris Olympics qualifiers.

The 18-member team that was picked for the Hangzhou Asian Games was also to go to Zagreb, but with five wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia (thumb injury) and Antim Panghal, withdrawing, no replacement was named.(REUTERS)

The disappointing state of affairs points to the administrative mess that Indian wrestling is in an Olympic year. The 18-member team that was picked for the Hangzhou Asian Games was also to go to Zagreb, but with five wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia (thumb injury) and Antim Panghal, withdrawing, no replacement was named.

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“The wrestlers from the Asian Games squad who gave their consent for the ranking series have been included since the deadline was near,” said an official in the know of things.

Interestingly, the entry list of the world body, UWW, for Zagreb announced on January 1 does not contain any Indian wrestler’s name. However, an official said: “The entries have been accepted and it will be updated.”

It was learnt that many wrestlers had reached out to the IOA-appointed ad hoc panel for their inclusion since more than one wrestler per country can participate in ranking events.

Sujeet Kalkal, the U-23 Asian champion, wrote to the ad hoc panel on December 28 asking to be entered in the 65kg class after Punia pulled out. “This exposure will be helpful in the lead up to preparation for the Paris Olympics and will also help me gain ranking points,” wrote Sujeet, also the national and National Games champion.

Commonwealth Games champion Naveen Malik too had made a similar request. “I wanted to compete. This is an Olympics year and I am preparing for the qualifiers, but they said only the Asian Games squad members will go. It is very disappointing,” said Malik.

Senior nationals

The wrestlers and coaches are also feeling the heat because the ad hoc panel and the suspended Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) have announced separate national championships. The ad hoc panel announced the nationals for Jaipur (Feb 2-5) while WFI announced it would hold the event in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra from Jan 28. It was learnt that WFI officials will meet in Delhi on Wednesday to decide on the future course.

“The ad hoc panel has no mandate to hold the nationals. We are an elected body and we have the state units with us. We have our executive committee meeting on Jan 15 and we will decide on a few things,” said a senior functionary of WFI.

The turf war between WFI and the three-member ad hoc panel is likely to intensify.

“The wrestlers will bear the brunt of this fight. They will have to take a call at which nationals to participate. There is a lot of confusion,” said wrestling coach Dayanand.

Nowhere is this tussle more evident than in the sport’s heartland — Haryana — where the state unit is split. The Haryana Amateur Wrestling Association (HAWA) president Rohtash Singh, a Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh loyalist, has switched sides and is now in the camp that supports the wrestlers who led the protests while HAWA secretary Rakesh Singh is considered his adversary. The two officials have been at loggerheads, sending out separate circulars since last year. Rohtash issued a circular on Dec 30 calling for organising the state championships in Sonepat from Jan 17-18. It says that the team will be selected for participation in the Sr. National Championships in Jaipur.

“WFI is also gearing up to hold the state championships and we are soon expecting them to announce their plans. If that happens, where will the wrestlers go?” asked a coach who runs an academy in Sonepat.

Around 130 wrestling akhadas in Haryana came together in Rohtak on Saturday to discuss these pressing issues. Incidentally, WFI secretary-general Prem Chand Lochab, who won in the WFI elections contesting in the panel backing the protesting wrestlers, was present in the meeting.

The akhadas were unanimous that wrestlers should not suffer and that elections should happen for new districts and a state federation. They also want the old system of allowing the top three states of the national championships to field two teams to be continued.

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