Poor show: wrangling sports bodies among the reasons

Poor show: wrangling sports bodies among the reasons

Poor show: wrangling sports bodies among the reasons

India’s tally of two medals in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has stirred a hornet’s nest. It has also pricked the bubble of bombastic claims of doubling the tally from the London Games that had fetched six medals. The furious relays of reviews and reasoning bring under the scanner the role of the national federations that have time and again fallen short in their avowed task.


The way various sports federations have functioned since the 2012 Olympics, the fallout on the current edition was but expected. Take for example boxing. Along with the wrestlers, the boxers had added to India’s Olympic medal tally in both 2008 and 2012 Games. Vijender Singh’s bronze medal in Beijing turned out to be a watershed moment for Indian boxing that prospered magnificently in the next four years. Improved performance of Indian boxers in international events began to attract invites for training from top boxing nations and by 2012 Games, India could field its largest contingent of eight boxers.

The high of boxing got derailed once the erstwhile Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) was suspended in December 2012 over alleged manipulation in their election. Toeing the line of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the IABF was also derecognised by the Sports Ministry. Later, a new body called Boxing India emerged in 2013 but due to political wrangling within groups, it was terminated within a year by AIBA which found the office bearers "damaging the image, reputation and interest" of the sport.  

The funds from AIBA too dried up with Indian boxers losing the privilege to compete under the national flag. With no national federation, the competitions and training invites, too, stopped. The AIBA then constituted an ad hoc committee last year to look after the boxing affairs in the country, but there is still some way to go before a new federation is formed. The absence of a proper domestic structure impacted the performance of Indian boxers, who were left on their own. With no Indian officials present in technical conduct of the sport, they complained of bias in scoring during their Olympic qualification bouts but it was of little consequence. From eight boxers competing in 2012, only three could make the cut for Rio. They returned empty-handed. Rio was the first time since 2008 that India didn’t have a medal in boxing.

Gymnastics, Wrestling: Like boxing, the Gymnastics Federation of India is also under suspension and it leaves one to wonder what might have happened to Dipa Karmakar, who won the Indian hearts with her path-breaking fourth-place finish in the Rio Games, had the Sports Authority of India not taken her under its wings. Wrestling, whose graph too had risen with the Beijing Games, also disappointed in Rio but for Sakshi Malik, who ended the barren medal run for the Indians with her historic bronze. What makes it the ‘unforgettable Games’ for Indian wrestling was the way the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav controversy split the once harmonious fraternity. And the reason was Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) being caught in an ego war with the double Olympic medallist Sushil.

Sushil-Narsingh shadow bout

The day Narsingh secured a quota for the country in the 74kg by winning bronze at the World championship last year, it was clear there would be questions on who would be India’s candidate for the weight category. It was because Sushil, who was injured during the Worlds, also competes in the same category. But the WFI kept mum on the matter. Since the quota goes to the country, Sushil maintained he was given an understanding by the WFI that there will be a trial for final selection. The wrestler trained in all earnestness before having a fall out with WFI during the pro wrestling league. Later, WFI refused to hold trials and Sushil knocked the door of Delhi High Court. What followed was a bitter battle in court, which ruled in favour of Narsingh. But the saga, like a Bollywood potboiler, didn’t end here.

Narsingh sensationally failed drug test. WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and Narsingh claimed sabotage and even indicated the hand of Sushil’s camp. Quite shockingly, Narsingh got a clean chit from the National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) and despite an appeal from the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) looming, was sent to the Games. Expectedly, Wada appealed against Nada’s decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport  (CAS). Worst, it caught WFI off-guard leaving Narsingh without a lawyer at CAS hearing. The CAS upheld the Wada appeal which not only cost India a berth in the Games but also heaped embarrassment on the country.

Athletics: Before the Games was to start, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) went a step ahead to facilitate the qualification of Indian athletes for Rio Games, even holding an unscheduled India Grand Prix in Bengaluru just a few days before the final cut-off date for Olympics qualification. Even as AFI now struggles to reason the underperformance of its athletes, who couldn’t even match their qualifying marks at Rio, it has given relevance to the promised measures of  International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to crack down on the athletes qualifying for the big competitions through fraudulent means.

At a time when other sports bodies in the world are facing flak for not meeting their predicted tally of gold medals, Indian administrators are busy in self promotions.

While the review committees are being set up to assess the failure of Indian athletes at the Games, it would only be fair if strict measures are also taken to make national sports federations accountable.

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