(this post first appeared in a modified form on the Ringside View)
The 66kg weight category for freestyle wrestling, which was present in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, has been removed for the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. This has made life difficult for Sushil Kumar, who has competed for most of his career in the 66kg category, winning Olympic medals in both Beijing and London as well the world title in 2010 and gold at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games. If he competes, it will have to be in the 74kg category as he declined to compete in the 65kg category to make way for fellow Olympic and Commonwealth medallist, Yogeshwar Dutt, who has traditionally competed in the 60kg category (also removed for Rio).
What stands in his way is Narsingh Yadav, Wrestling World Championship medallist in the 74kg category.
India has secured a quota of eight places for wrestling for the Rio Olympics (six for men’s wrestling), of which the 74kg men’s freestyle berth was thanks to Narsingh’s bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships. However, the Olympic quota is awarded to the country and not to the wrestler who secured it, and Sushil Kumar has asked for a trial to determine who will represent India in the weight category. On the other hand, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has traditionally not held trials and the winner of the quota has always gone on to compete in the Olympics (an exception was in 1996, when trials were conducted for the 48kg men’s Greco-Roman category, though in that case Kaka Pawar secured the quota but Pappu Yadav was the federation’s initial selection).
Sushil Kumar has argued that trials are necessary to judge whether an athlete is in form going into a major tournament, and has cited the fact that reigning Olympic and world champion, Jordan Burroughs of the United States, had to undergo trials to represent the US in Rio. The WFI is worried that if they accept Sushil’s demand, other athletes may come forward to contest the WFI’s picks for other categories.
A similar question has gone to court before. In 2014, a number of wrestlers including Amit Dhankhar and Rahul Aware moved the Delhi High Court for the conducting of trials for the Commonwealth Games.1 The WFI in turn argued that it was not necessary to hold trials before every event. The Court found that according to guidelines incorporated in the National Sports Code formulated by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (binding on all National Sports Federations), it was in fact necessary to hold selection trials before major international events like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, etc. It was only because the final list of names had already been sent to the Commonwealth Games Committee and a training camp in preparation for the Games was already in session that the holding of trials was not ordered.
Sushil Kumar has now moved the Delhi HC. It was initially reported that the WFI had sent the IOA a list of probables which did not feature Sushil Kumar’s name. Subsequently, however, the WFI has stated that it did not send any list and that Sushil Kumar is not out of the running. WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has stated that it is the federation’s parampara to send the wrestler who has secured the berth, and has expressed reluctance to conduct trials. Nevertheless, Sushil Kumar has a good chance of getting his chance in a trial if the court decides his case quickly.
1Amit Kumar Dhankhar v Union of India WP (C) 3914/2014, Delhi HC, decided 3 July 2014