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Keeping performance as the only yardsticks, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has graded 24 senior players for the central contracts which came into effect from November 15. The WFI initiative is aided and supported by their commercial partners, Sporty Solutionz. The biggest beneficiaries are Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Pooja Dhanda who have been put in the ‘A’ category. The others have been divided into four other categories – B to E. The three marquee wrestlers will get an annual package of ₹ 30 lakh, besides other benefits. In a glittering inaugural ceremony of the Senior Nationals at Nandininagar, Gonda, UP, where Hon'ble Chief Minister Shri Yogi Adityanath was the chief guest, WFI Chief, Brij Bhushan Saran Singh has officially announced the central contracts to the wrestlers. The WFI, thus, becomes first national sports federation under the aegis of the Indian Olympic Association to grant annual contracts to its athletes. Only, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been doing this in the past. Among those present at the occasion were World Championship silver medallist Bajrang Punia, Asian Games gold medal winner Vinesh Phogat, World Championship bronze winner Pooja Dhanda, 2016 Rio Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik and close to 800 participants who have convened here for the Tata Motors 63rd Men’s and 21st Women’s Wrestling Championship. Speaking on the occasion, Brij Bhushan Saran Singh said that 144 grapplers, including those at the grassroots level, will receive funds under different slabs of the scheme. WFI is the only Olympic sport body that has taken such an initiative for the benefit of its wrestlers on the lines of BCCI’s central contract system to its cricket players. “Wrestling can’t get better than this. The central contracts system is a big boon and will boost our morale,” said Bajrang Punia. Echoing his view, Vinesh said: “It (the money) will motivate us more than ever, and it provides a good competition among wrestlers.” “Our idea is to give maximum benefits to wrestlers, right from the ones who are on national duties and performing consistently to the ones who show the potentials to take this legacy forward. The money will not only give them sustenance but also motivate to keep doing well at all levels, especially internationally,” said the WFI President. “With all their needs addressed and a financially-secured present, the players can freely focus on their training and pursuit for excellence.” Wrestling icon and double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Rio Games bronze medal winner Sakshi Malik in Category B will receive₹20 lakh each. Grade C has seven grapplers –2016 Asian Championship Gold medalist, Sandeep Tomar, World Junior Championship Silver medalist, Sajan Beniwal, Vinod Kumar Omprakash, Ritu Phogat, Sumit, Deepak Punia and Asian Games Bronze medalist Divya Kakran. Each one of them will receive ₹10 lakh each annually. Rahul Aware, Naveen, Utkarsh kale, Sachin Rathi, Vijay, Simran, Manshi and Anusha are part of Category D and are entitled to ₹5 lakh each, while Navjot Kaur, Kiran, Harpreet Singh and Jitendra will get ₹ 3 lakh each, having been placed in Grade E. The WFI, keeping the future in mind, will support 120 boys and girls, who have been placed in grades F, G, H and I where the U-23, Junior, Cadets and U-15 will reap the benefits for the development and growth programmes. In Grade F, WFI has kept all Under-23 National-level gold medal winners across all categories, and these wrestlers will get an annual stipend of ₹1.2 lakh, whereby each of them will be collecting ₹10,000 per month. Harping on the central contract system, the WFI president said that it gives the wrestlers a guaranteed annual income and “we are ever thankful to Tata Motors, who is on board as the principal sponsors. “When we roped in Tata Motors, the idea was to give the best of facilities to our wrestlers – be it training, coaching or exposure trips –but the principal sponsors have given us the money and encouragement to share the spoils with the players, who are the mainstay,” said Ashish Chadha, CEO, Sporty Solutionz, WFI Commercial Partner. The overall grading of wrestlers is purely based on the performances in the World Championships, Olympics and Asian Games, the London and Rio Games as well were taken into considerations. The contracts handed out to the wrestlers will, in no way, hamper or undermine players’ contracts with their private sponsors. “The wrestlers are free to receive any prize money and grants from other sources,” added the WFI President at the sidelines of the Wrestling Nationals opening ceremony.