Sushil vs. Narsingh — It’s a question of fairness

Who should board the flight to Rio? Two-time Olympic medallist and former World champion Sushil Kumar or Olympic quota place winner and current Asia and World championship medallist Narsingh Yadav? This is the biggest riddle in the Indian sports circles at present.

Who should board the flight to Rio? Two-time Olympic medallist and former World champion Sushil or Olympic quota place winner and current Asia and World championship medallist Narsingh?   -  Getty Images and PTI

For the kind of attention it has received over the last fortnight or so, the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav dispute to represent the country in the men’s freestyle 74 kg wrestling in the Rio Olympics can now be counted among India’s all-time notorious Olympic tales.

We are going to remember this episode just as we recall forgettable moments like Gurbux Singh and Prithipal Singh being named joint captains of the Indian hockey team for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City or Kaka Pawar and Pappu Yadav vying for a 48 kg Greco Roman wild card spot for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

With the proliferation of hyperactive social media platforms backed by the omnipresent internet, the Sushil-Narsingh duel off the mat has outdone all other contests of a similar nature.

So, who should board the flight to Rio?

Two-time Olympic medallist and former World champion Sushil or Olympic quota place winner and current Asia and World championship medallist Narsingh?

This is the biggest riddle in the Indian sports circles at present and with Sushil moving the Delhi High Court with a request to conduct a trial between him and Narsingh the matter is destined to be settled with the fall of a gavel.

 

While dissecting the issue, let’s take a look at where the two wrestlers stand at present.

Sushil won a bronze medal and a silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics respectively besides clinching the 2010 World championship title in 66 kg. With the United World Wrestling dropping 66 kg while shuffling weight divisions, Sushil had no choice but to move up to 74 kg for multi-disciplinary games.

After switching to the new weight, the legendary wrestler has rarely taken part in competitive wrestling since the last Olympics due to a recurring shoulder injury. The only exception was the 2014 Commonwealth Games where he won a gold medal.

However, the quality of competition in the Commonwealth Games is never rated among the top and critics say a wrestler of Sushil’s calibre winning the gold medal was a foregone conclusion.

Narsingh, who rose to prominence by claiming gold medals in the Asian championship and the Commonwealth Games in 2010, has been competing in 74 kg for at least seven years. The wrestler overcame a slump due to injuries to again stamp his class in his favourite weight by giving a string of fine performances, including bronze medals in the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 Asian championship and World championship. His bronze medal in the Las Vegas World championship in September last also brought India the first wrestling quota place for the Rio Games.

Since Sushil missed the World championship because of an injury, he wanted to be pitted against Narsingh in a trial to ascertain who would go to Rio for the 74 kg weight.

“Both are top class wrestlers and capable of winning a medal in the Olympics. It is not easy to take a decision (who should go to Rio). Unfortunately, it has got a lot of media attention,” said former National champion and noted commentator Jagdish Kaliraman.

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In a fight of reputation versus talent and past laurels versus present form, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), the parent body, remained silent for too long before saying it respected Sushil for his achievements but could not do injustice to Narsingh, who earned the quota place and has been in the form of his life.

The WFI also said that it had no reason to break the tradition of sending wrestlers who won quota places to the Olympics.

“How can we be unfair to Narsingh? Narsingh has participated in all the selection trials and elite events in the last two years and has done well, whereas Sushil has not participated in any of these after the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Sushil got so many chances to make his mark in 74 kg,” argued WFI secretary V. N. Prasood, underlining that Narsingh is the best wrestler in that particular weight.

Sushil insisted that given his achievements and stature he be given a chance. “All I am asking for is a trial.” And he has many supporters in the form of fans, followers and former grapplers. “The best wrestler should go to the Olympics. Sushil is the biggest wrestler India has ever produced and deserves a chance,” argued Olympian Gian Singh.

Former WFI secretary Raj Singh countered the Federation’s apprehension that allowing a trial in 74 kg could trigger demands for trials in other weight categories in which India had made the Olympic grade. “In other weights, the best wrestlers had competed in selection trials prior to the qualification events. In 74 kg, Sushil did not participate due to an injury.”

There is no denying the fact that Sushil was never clearly told by the WFI that he would not get another chance if someone else got the quota place in 74 kg. The ace wrestler even went to Georgia on Government funding to prepare for the Olympics with the hope that the WFI would allow a trial between him and Narsingh.

READ: >Who is right and who is wrong?

When the WFI tried to explain its stand of not holding the trial to Sushil, it was too late. He had moved the court. In fact, the WFI called Sushil for a meeting only after an instruction from the court.

Two-time Asian Games gold medallist and former WFI secretary Kartar Singh opined that the issue could have been handled better. “The WFI should have taken a decision on this issue much earlier. It should have told Sushil that he must take part in international competitions in order to be in contention. This is not good for the country. At this point of time, the wrestlers should focus on their training instead of getting involved in all this.”

Nevertheless, being the most competent authority to select wrestlers for international competitions, the WFI is likely to have the final say in the matter. The court has already indicated this in its preliminary observation and may give a verdict accordingly when the case comes up for hearing on May 27.

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FACTFILE

Sushil Kumar (Age: 32)

Achievements: The most decorated wrestler in the country, Sushil gave Indian wrestling a new dimension by winning two consecutive Olympic medals in 2008 and 2012 and pocketing a World championship gold medal in 2010. The son of a bus driver, the Delhi-based wrestler has won medals at many other prominent competitions, including the Asian Games, the Asian championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth championship.

Won all his big medals in the 66 kg freestyle but switched to a higher, 74 kg, weight after the international federation, United World Wrestling, dropped 66 kg for multi-disciplinary events while shuffling weight categories.

Barring the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Sushil has been mostly out of action after the London Olympics due to a shoulder injury. He even chose to stay away from the Pro Wrestling League after featuring in the launch of the league.

Narsingh Yadav (Age: 26)

Achievements: Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, the talented wrestler, whose father worked as a milk distributor in Mumbai, grew up in the economic capital of the country and honed his skills there.

Narsingh rose to prominence after emerging the 74 kg Asian champion in 2010 at the age of 20. He went on to win the Commonwealth Games gold medal the same year and a silver in the Commonwealth championship the following year to stamp his domination.

Nursing a nagging injury, Narsingh spent a few years away from the limelight but worked hard to come back stronger. He gave a series of fine performances including bronze medals in the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 Asian championship and the World championship. The World championship medal also ensured him an Olympic quota place.

In the inaugural Pro Wrestling League, Narsingh, who was picked up by the Bangalore franchise for Rs. 34.5 lakh, impressed everyone with his 100 per cent winning performance.