Eight years ago, Sushil Kumar went from an unknown entity to India’s Olympic hero with a Bronze medal at the Beijing Olympic, and became one of, if not, the greatest Indian Olympian after securing a silver in the 66kg Freestyle category, becoming the nation’s only double individual medallist. Sushil Kumar’s chances of bringing home the much desired yellow metal in the 2016 Rio Games had been touted ever since his dominant display at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, following his move up a weight category to the 74kg class. Since his victory at the CWG though, he has been forced into a number of breaks citing injuries and has thus not taken part in a competitive tournament since 2014.
During the same time, Narsingh Pancham Yadav, India’s other representative in the 74kg category has gone from strength to winning podium finishes at the World Championships and all other professional tournaments he has participated in, culminating in a bronze that booked India a spot at the Rio Olympics.
Though it all seems rosy till this moment, things took an ugly turn when all the qualifying tournaments ended without Sushil Kumar taking part in the qualifiers. Though he had earlier stated that the best athlete should represent India, he has now gone on to demand a trial against Narsingh Yadav, claiming that it is only fair given that he has achieved so much for the country. In fact, he has launched a campaign, ‘#Justice4Sushil’ and has written to the Sports Authority of India, the Prime Minister, as well as launched a Social Media campaign pushing for the same.
Narsingh Yadav has taken the mat in the furore as well, stating that he is the best in the category in India, and winning the quota place gives him the right to represent the country. The controversy has placed the Wrestling Federation in a fix. Sushil’s refusal to take part in tournaments citing injury has resulted in a situation where there is no metric whereby his form and fitness can be tested. Releasing a statement that it is ‘tradition’ that the wrestler who wins the quota place, represents the country, the Federation has sought to reconcile the two through administrative channels. Sushil, though, has responded with an example of the Atlanta Games in ’96 where trails were held in the 48kg Greco-Roman category. In 2000, before the Sydney Olympic Games, Yogeshwar Dutt’s place too was challenged; however the matter had to be sorted through the judiciary, with the courts holding that the person who won the quota has a right to represent the nation.
This is Sushil Kumar’s last chance at an Olympic Gold, considering his age. He is India’s most decorated, experienced and successful wrestlers and does seem pumped and ready to fight it out for a place on the Indian contingent. However Narsingh Yadav has age, form and fitness on his side. He is match fit, having not only participated, but also won a number of tournaments. On his way to a bronze at the World Championships that sealed the quota for India, he floored a number of Olympic medallists. If Sushil Kumar truly believes that the best athlete should represent India, he needs to prove why he deserves a trial in the first place and not wrest on past laurels as grounds for a trial, otherwise he should let the next generation of grapplers, led by Narsingh Pancham Yadav take the baton.