'Hard for protesting wrestlers to qualify for Asian Games'

Coaches worried the protests will have a detrimental effect on wrestlers
Last Updated : 03 June 2023, 14:27 IST

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At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, India enjoyed it’s best-ever show at the continental showpiece event after winning a whopping 16 gold, 23 silver and 31 bronze. Wrestling, with 2 gold and a bronze, was the country’s third-biggest contributor.

The two wrestlers who won gold in Indonesia were Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, now making national headlines on a daily basis for their continued protest against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhusan Sharan Singh.

The duo, along with Sakshi Malik, allege that the politically-backed Brij Bhusan sexually exploited several women wrestlers and have been demanding his arrest.

The trio, tipped to be medal contenders at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games from September 23-October 8, have sacrificed critical training in leading the protest that has at times seen police authorities manhandle them. While their main demand for Brij Bhusan’s arrest is yet to be met, their absence from the mat could seriously jeopardise their chances of securing a berth for Hangzhou, feel a couple of national-level coaches.

“The level of wrestling has increased leaps and bounds over the last decade in the country such that there 2-3 world-class competitors for every weight category,” a reputed coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, told DH. “Since the competition is so intense, for every event, major or minor, WFI picks the squad based on performance in selection trials.

“I believe the selection trials for the Asian Games were scheduled at the end of June. Although Bajrang, Vinesh and Sakshi are world-class wrestlers, I don’t think they have enough time to get in shape for the trials. Even if they manage to ace it, given their natural pedigree, it’s going to be hard to extremely hard to replicate it at the Asian Games where the best from the continent converge. My heart breaks to see potential medallists ruining a great chance, but the situation has gone beyond control.”

At least two top coaches refused to talk when DH contacted them, saying they’ve been instructed not to offer comments to the media on the ongoing fiasco. Another coach, after much prodding, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying given the mental state the trio is in, their Asian Games hopes appear very bleak.

“Apart from physical health, what is most important for a wrestler, in fact any athlete, is the mental state of mind. They need to be in good mental shape, only then they can focus on winning a medal. Right now, their mind is on the protest and how they can bring justice. From being hailed as heroes when they won medals to being labelled ‘anti-nationals’, it’s hard to fathom,” he said.

“The constant trauma they are going through is going to take a toll, mentally and physically. It’s impossible to switch over in such a short span of time. Sad to see the turn of events, but the trio stands very little chance at Asian Games.”

The first coach said there are four stages of preparation, each interlinked, and considering they are broken, the trio’s best hopes of getting in competitive shape is the Paris Olympics.

“For every big event, a wrestler has four performance cycles – physical, general fitness, specific areas and competitive. It’s all well laid out for every top wrestler. The protesting wrestlers have not been able to follow any of it. Elite sports has become extremely scientific now and instead of being in peak training mold, they are out battling cops and abuses.

“Secondly, maintaining weight category is very crucial. I’m sure they must have gained weight since the protests started. They can lose all of it before the trials but they’ll end up losing muscle and will end up becoming weak. Losing and gaining weight in wrestling and boxing is pure science. What’s happening now is a total loss for the wrestling community.”

Published 03 June 2023, 13:26 IST

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