Protests off but Indian wrestling shrouded in confusion, uncertainty


A state body headed by a high-ranking BJP member from Assam dragging a national federation that was, until recently, headed by a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh to court and getting a stay order on the long-overdue elections of the Wrestling Federation of India on a Sunday afternoon.

The ad-hoc committee, which was mandated by the government to conduct the elections within 45 days of its formation, postponing the process indefinitely on Monday, citing the Gauhati High Court order.

The protesting wrestlers, who have suspended their agitation, putting in 4-5 hours of gruelling training every day for the last two weeks in their bid to return to the mat, unsure whether to stay put in Sonepat or shift their base abroad as they prepare for a court battle against WFI’s beleaguered chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

And the other grapplers waiting impatiently to know what path they’ll have to take to get selected for the year’s two major competitions – the World Championships, an Olympic qualifier, and the Asian Games.

On the mat and off it, the sport that has won India a medal at least in each of the last four Olympics finds itself in unprecedented chaos.

The protests on the streets might have ended, with the wrestlers ready to take their battle to the court, but confusion reigns supreme in Indian wrestling at the moment, with the recent developments raising more questions than answers.

Wrestlers’ dilemma: To stay put in Sonepat or travel abroad

One thing that’s known is that the protesting wrestlers will return to the mat; When and where, however, is not known.

Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, who led the protests against Brij Bhushan along with Sakshi Malik, were hoping to make a comeback at the Ranking Series tournament in Budapest next month. However, on Monday, United World Wrestling released the entry lists for the competition and confirmed only Vinesh’s entry. Whether she will eventually compete in Budapest will depend on whether she gets match-fit in the next two weeks.

The protesting wrestlers have stayed away from the mat since April when they renewed their stir. According to those who monitor their training, Vinesh and Bajrang, gold medallists at the last Asian Games, have been putting in close to five hours of hard work every day for the last two weeks.

They are also wrestling with a dilemma – on one hand, they hope to move abroad so that they can continue training without many distractions but on the other, the wrestlers fear that if they leave the country, the case against Brij Bhushan could lose momentum.

The wrestlers are also held back by other factors, with the availability of decent sparring partners and coaches at the training centre being their foremost concerns.

Trial by fire: A rethink on the two-stage format?

The main reason Vinesh and Bajrang wish to train abroad is to get in shape for the selection trials for the World Championship and the Asian Games. Given the proximity of the two events – Asian Games wrestling begins 10 days after the Worlds end – it has been decided to have a common selection trial for both events.

On Sunday, Vinesh made public the letter the protesting wrestlers wrote to sports minister Anurag Thakur, in which they sought time till August for the trials. The Indian Olympic Association has, in turn, approached the Olympic Council of Asia to extend the deadline to submit final entries. As things stand, all countries must submit their final contingent lists by July 15.

While they waited for the OCA to respond, the ad-hoc committee decided to conduct the selection trials in two stages in the weight categories of the six protesting wrestlers.

All other wrestlers will fight it out in the first stage, likely to be held before July 15, and the winners in each category will then face the protesting wrestlers in a one-bout final in the second week of August. The winner of that bout will represent India at the two events.

However, after other wrestlers claimed this would give Bajrang, Vinesh, Sakshi and the other protesters an unfair advantage, the ad-hoc committee, which is responsible for conducting the trials, had second thoughts.

The committee was to meet on Monday to discuss the issue but after the Gauhati High Court stayed the WFI elections on Sunday, the dates and format for the selection trials were not brought up.

Assam Wrestling’s last-minute takedown

Blindsided by the High Court order, the ad-hoc committee on Monday said they have deferred the elections ‘till further order and the whole process shall be reviewed after receiving any further directions from the Hon’ble High Court’.

The Gauhati High Court intervened hours before the deadline to submit names to finalise the electoral college was supposed to end.

While most of the action was taking place in Delhi, concerning the protests and other administrative affairs, the Assam Wrestling Association elected its new president, Ratul Sarmah, on June 4.

Sarmah is an executive committee member of the Assam BJP. A day after he was elected, the association shot off a letter to the head of the ad-hoc committee, Bhupender Bajwa, requesting affiliation with the WFI. This would give them the right to vote as well as contest in the elections.

Assam wasn’t the only federation with this request. It is learnt that at least 10 other state bodies had approached the returning officer with similar complaints in the last few weeks, alleging that Brij Bhushan arbitrarily recognised or de-recognised federations.

This was the reason why, last week, the ad-hoc committee was forced to delay the entire election process by five days.

But with time running out, Sarmah approached the High Court, which held a Sunday hearing and put a stay on the elections.

Sarmah shared letters written by the Assam Wrestling Association to the WFI in 2003, 2009, 2015 and 2019, requesting affiliation. “But our request has constantly been ignored. We did not go to court so far hoping that we would be able to convince the WFI to recognise us. This time, however, we were left with no choice. We took this step to protect the future of our athletes,” Sarmah told The Indian Express.


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