Indian wrestlers have been dealt another blow in their preparations for Tokyo Olympics with the year-end Wrestling World Championships officially called off for not meeting the minimum participation criteria.

The United World Wrestling (UWW) took the decision late on Tuesday and is now planning to organise an ‘Individual World Cup’ as a substitute event.

The UWW had set a benchmark requiring participation from at least eight of the top-10 nations from the 2019 edition and 70 percent of total athletes for the event to go ahead. National federations had to confirm their interest by November 5. 

The rising cases of COVID-19 across Europe had earlier forced USA and Japan to withdraw participation with Cuba joining them last week, weakening the field and forcing the cancellation of the Worlds, scheduled from December 12-20 in Belgrade. While dates for the Individual World Cup are yet to be finalised, the event is likely to be held next year only. 

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“We want to see our athletes compete again on the mat. It’s important to our organization and we are committed to providing them an opportunity. There are real challenges to overcome but we are working together to find a safe and acceptable format where our top athletes can compete in a world class event,” UWW president Nenad Lalovic said in a statement. 

The cancellation has left Indian wrestlers with no competitive outing since the Asian Championships in late February. Deepak Punia (86kg) and Ravi Dahiya (57kg), both qualified for Tokyo, had planned to travel for the Poland Open last week but withdrew due to health and travel restrictions.

Bajrang Punia’s coach Emzarios Bentinidis had earlier indicated they might travel to USA to train after Punia’s marriage on November 25 if the Worlds were cancelled. 

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) had earlier deferred selection trials and is now unsure of the national championships, scheduled from December 18-20 in Gonda, as well.

“We will take a call on Nationals soon. The UWW decision came only yesterday night so we have to now work out something for our wrestlers. However, it is likely that any competition will be held only in 2021 now. Once the dates and schedule for the Individual World Cup are decided, we will plan accordingly,” WFI secretary Vinod Tomar said.