No China at Asian Wrestling Championships; India hopes to better previous tally

Bajrang Punia is the favorite to defend his 65kg freestyle title at the Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi, beginning on Tuesday.

Bajrang Punia, World no 2 in the 65kg freestyle, said he is looking to use the Asian Championships as a launch pad for future tournaments.   -  ap

It’s official. China would not be present at the Senior Asian Wrestling Championships starting here on Tuesday. The biggest gainers would be the Indian women in the competition.

Although there has been no official word from the government, the 40-member Chinese contingent had not been provided visas till late Monday evening with no further development on the issue. China has been facing an epidemic outbreak of the novel Coronavirus.

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) officials admitted health concerns had led to the decision. “Several participating nations had also asked for clarity on China’s participation and had even expressed reservations about coming in case Chinese wrestlers were entered. It is a global concern right now and we cannot take any risks with the health of wrestlers. Sports is after all meant for fitness,” a senior WFI official explained.

Asked whether this might lead to the United World Wrestling (UWW) taking exception, the official denied. “It would have been an issue if we had denied Pakistan but that is sorted. This is a health concern not just for us but the entire world right now. It is an exceptional situation,” he said.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju insisted it was purely a health concern. “As part of the Olympic charter, we cannot deny visas to anyone for a competition. But there are separate provisions for health or technical issues,” he said.

READ | Coronavirus: Chinese wrestlers denied visas for Asian Championships in Delhi

Pakistan, meanwhile, is expected to arrive by Tuesday with its four freestyle wrestlers and two officials. The biggest attraction, however, would undoubtedly be World No. 2 and India’s biggest Olympic hope Bajrang Punia in the 65kg Freestyle. Given the event would be a ranking tournament for the upcoming Olympic Qualifier and would affect the seeding for the latter, a good performance here would help the defending champion get an easier outing.

The glamour boys of Freestyle, however, would be in action over the weekend, the six-day event kicking off with Greco-Roman competition the first two days followed by the women’s bouts at the KD Jadhav Stadium. While India has traditionally been weak in the category, it managed three finalists in 2019 for four medals, out of a total of 16. Sajan Bhanwal (77kg) and Harpreet Singh (82kg) would be the biggest hopes this time around. India has four Olympic spots with Ravi Dahiya (57kg), Deepak Punia (86kg) and Vinesh Phogat (W, 53kg) being the other three.


Olympic Qualifier to be shifted?

Meanwhile the Asian Olympic Qualifier, scheduled to be held in Xi’an province of China from March 27-29, is also likely to be shifted with Mongolia and Kazakhstan in the fray to host the same along with India. A final decision would be taken in the coming week. “Obviously we hope we get it but Kazakhstan had successfully hosted the World Championships last year. Let us see,” WFI said.

Tuesday’s schedule: Greco-Roman: 55kg, 63kg, 77kg, 87kg, 130kg.

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