From India’s most successful Olympic Sport to the most troubled one – How will the political turmoil in Indian Wrestling impact the Paris Olympics

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Wrestling has been India’s favorite and most successful sport at the Olympic Games in recent times. During every Olympic year, there exists a high hope for the Indian Wrestling contingent to do wonders at the global event. But with the recent political tensions, things do not seem to be as good as before.

So far, only Antim Panghal has reserved a quota for the Olympic games this year in women’s 53 Kg. India can earn 17 more quota places for the Games in Paris in the two tournaments — the Asian Olympic Games Qualifier in Kyrgyzstan in April and the World Olympic Games Qualifiers in Turkey in May. With only 5 months left for the summer games, and with the continuing dilemma in the Wrestling Federation, questions arise regarding more Olympic berths.

India will be competing under the Olympics flag at the Paris Olympics, as the Wrestling Federation of India(WFI) was suspended by the United World Wrestling(UWW) last year, and the suspension has not been withdrawn yet by the global governing body.

Political tensions in Indian Wrestling

UWW suspended WFI last year, as the Indian governing body failed to conduct the elections and the then Chairman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh faced sexual harassment allegations. The suspension decision has not been withdrawn by the Global Council as of now.

“United World Wrestling placed the Wrestling Federation of India under provisional suspension with immediate effect after the Indian body failed to hold an election in due course.”

“The Chamber also considered the protection of athletes after the allegations against the former President of the WFI and the necessity to restore the functioning of the federation as another ground to impose the provisional suspension.”

“Wrestlers and their support personnel [individuals with a high-performance, medical or technical role such as coaches, assistant coaches, sports physicians or masseurs] remain authorized to participate in all UWW-sanctioned events. However, they shall do so under the UWW flag,” said a statement by UWW.

After multiple postponements, WFI elections were finally held in December last year. However, the newly elected body was suspended by the Sports Ministry within three days.

Citing the suspension, the official letter from the Sports Ministry said, “Taking note of the compelling current situation arising out of the influence and control of the WFI’s former office bearers, serious concerns have arisen about the governance and integrity of the WFI”.

However, all is far from well. The suspension by the Sports Ministry means “nothing” for the WFI. The IOA’s three-member ad-hoc committee, which was entrusted with running the WFI’s day-to-day operations, has been flatly rejected by the Sanjay Singh-led panel.

The panel has even rejected the ministry’s suspension of its newly formed Executive Committee (EC) and decided to conduct the senior nationals at dates and venues of its choice. It has even threatened to stop WFI member state associations from sending entries to the ad-hoc committee’s nationals in Jaipur, which was held from February 2 to 5.

Indian Wrestling
Brij Bhushan Singh and Sanjay Singh

Sanjay Singh has also sent letters to the IOC and United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s global governing body, complaining about “government interference”.

With the state wrestling federations under the control of Brij Bhushan’s aides, it seems unlikely that his “chosen candidate” can be defeated even in future elections.

What lies ahead for Indian Wrestling?

But, with around five months left for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, it is the future of Indian wrestling that remains shrouded in confusion and uncertainty.

The government must now find ways within the laid-down “Sports Code” to ensure that “neutral and unbiased” officials are elected to the WFI posts. The only way forward might be to reserve one of the top posts for a female representative, as well as reserve seats for the high-quality former wrestlers.

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