Desperate times, desperate measures

All that glitters is gold… Amit Kumar of India celebrates on winning the 55 kg freestyle final against-R.V. MOORTHY

At a time when FILA has been making all efforts to save the sport from being dropped from the Olympics, it was good to see some significant changes adopted during the Asian Wrestling Championship, writes Y.B. Sarangi.

Against the backdrop of the sport facing the threat of exclusion from the 2020 Olympics, the conduct of the Asian Wrestling Championship, one of the prominent annual fixtures in the FILA (the international federation for wrestling) calendar, in New Delhi recently was significant.

At a time when FILA is making desperate efforts, including organising activities and holding discussions around the globe, to save the sport from being dropped from the Olympics, it was good to see some significant changes adopted during the Asian Championship.

The world body instructed the mat officials and referees to implement some of the rules more stringently and, for a change, one noticed caution points being awarded without much dilly-dallying. Earlier, wrestlers used to get away with delaying and unfair tactics like locking of fingers and heads, holding of wrists and pushing one another. This time, they were cautious since such acts meant a point to the opponent.

The Indian wrestlers and coaching staff found it difficult to change their old habits. The young Olympian, Amit Kumar, who won the first gold medal for the host, was lucky not to concede a crucial point in his 55 kg freestyle final bout against the London Olympics bronze medallist, Kyong Il Yang (North Korea).

Amit Dhankhar, who bagged the gold medal in the 66 kg category, had put himself in immense trouble by conceding a point in the closely fought final against Mandakhnaran Ganzorigiin of Mongolia, an Asian Games champion. Fortunately, Dhankhar managed to restore his lead and claim his maiden Asian crown.

Navjot Kaur, who improved upon her bronze medal-winning performance by claiming the silver in the women’s 67 kg class, was candid in her admission. “It is difficult to get rid of these habits. Now, the referees promptly award caution points and it plays on your mind,” she said after her loss to the Asian Games silver medallist, Nasanburmaa Ochirbat, in the title clash.

There were a few instances where the organisers were found lacking and the top bosses of FILA, who are trying to infuse more professionalism in the running of the sport, must have taken note of them. The conduct of the event in an orderly manner, provision of internet and other essential facilities for the media and sticking to the schedule were areas that needed attention.

Following the delayed schedule on the opening day, FILA instructed the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to conclude the proceedings on the remaining days within a reasonable timeframe.

As far as the competition was concerned, the absence of London Olympics medallists, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, was a big disappointment for the Indian fans.

World Championship bronze medal winner and India’s top woman wrestler, Geeta Phogat, suffered a hamstring pull at the last minute that hampered her progress.

India drew a blank in Greco Roman style after its two first-choice wrestlers — both Commonwealth Games medallists — Rajender Kumar (55 kg) and Manoj Kumar (84 kg) pulled out due to injuries. Nevertheless, the host captured nine medals in freestyle and women’s competitions as India recorded one of its best-ever performances in the continental event. In addition to the two gold medals (Amit Kumar and Amit Dhankhar) and the silver (Navjot Kaur), India won six bronze medals.

It was a memorable meet for the Indian women who accounted for five of the nine medals. Geeta’s sister, Babita Kumari (55 kg), also a World Championship medal winner, Vinesh (51 kg), seasoned wrestler Geetika Jakhar (63 kg) and Jyoti (72 kg) secured a bronze each.

“It was a never before kind of achievement for our women wrestlers. Everyone was expecting a medal from Geeta. However, this was an occasion where other wrestlers proved their worth,” said an elated women’s coach O. P. Yadav.

In the absence of Sushil and Yogeshwar, their sparring partners, Dhankhar and Bajrang (60 kg) respectively, showed that they were also capable of cornering glory. In 120 kg, where Indians are not considered good enough, rookie wrestler Hitender’s power-packed performance fetched him a bronze medal.

The only let down in freestyle was the defeat of the Commonwealth Games champion and former Asian champion, Narsingh Yadav, who went a division up to fight in the 84 kg category.

“It was a good exposure for our younger lot and I am happy they came good,” said the freestyle coach, Vinod Kumar.

The only way forward for the WFI is to look for exciting talents and create good bench strength that would help the country become a force in world wrestling.

* * * INDIAN MEDAL WINNERS Men — Freestyle Amit Kumar (55 kg) — gold Amit Dhankhar (66 kg) — gold Bajrang (60 kg) — bronze Hitender (120 kg) — bronze Women Navjot Kaur (67 kg) — silver Vinesh (51 kg) — bronze Babita Kumari (55 kg) — bronze Geetika Jakhar (63 kg) — bronze Jyoti (72 kg) — bronze * * * FIGHTING TO STAY IN THE GAMES

Nenad Lalovic, the acting president of FILA, spoke about the world wrestling federation’s fight to remain in the Olympic Movement after the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Executive Committee, in February, decided to drop the sport from the Games.

Lalovic said FILA must amend its constitution soon to make some drastic changes in its rules and promote women in the organisation. “We have our extra-ordinary Congress a week before the IOC’s St. Petersburg meet (May 29-31). We want to show to the IOC decision makers that we can change and implement our decisions,” said the Serbian, who was in New Delhi recently in connection with the Asian Wrestling Championship.

“First, we have to get more women on board and make them participate in our decisions and also as athletes… We will propose to IOC, for the next Olympics, we will have six categories of women (instead of four). We will have six each in freestyle and Greco Roman instead of seven…

“We have to change our rules and make it more watchable and understandable. Our rules are old because of our traditions. Tradition is one thing, but to live forever you have to live in accordance with the times you live in, and that is what we are trying to do now,” said Lalovic.

On the possible rule changes, Lalovic said, “There will be no draws for sure. There will be no positions that upset some religions. Probably no points for pushing from the mat. We want to show the majesty of wrestling. The strongest and more technically sound wrestler should win, not this casino system, the roulette system (clinch).”

The FILA acting president said he had been working round-the-clock to “clean our yard” and save the sport. “We are fighting back to rejoin our (IOC) family and that’s my sole job at the moment... We are strong people and we will fight. We were born with the Olympic Movement and we are fighting to stay in the Games,” Lalovic said.

Y. B. Sarangi