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Cheated and Betrayed- Wrestling fraternity fumes at the drama around Asian Games trials

The support Vinesh and Bajrang garnered during the protest against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh seems to have eroded now, with the ad hoc committee granting them direct entry into the Asian Games.

Cheated and Betrayed- Wrestling fraternity fumes at the drama around Asian Games trials

Pritish Raj

Updated: 22 July 2023 10:39 AM GMT

New Delhi: In the scorching heat of Delhi, a group of women were sitting in a circle outside Olympic Bhawan, the headquarters of the Indian Olympic Association, hours before the Asian Games trials.

There was another group of men discussing something in their hardcore Haryanvi, quite animatedly.

While any clarification on direct entry granted to Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia for the Asian Games seems like a distant dream, one of the sitting women got up in frustration.

"Arre kab aayenge ye log (When will the officials come out?)," she asked the security guard.

The guard had no answer and the woman said, "Humare sath toh dhokha hua hai (We have been cheated)."

When asked what she meant, she said, "We are among those people who used to travel everyday to Jantar Mantar to support Bajrang and Vinesh's protest. Now when we are here to talk about our children, nobody pays any attention."

Parents and families of Wrestlers protest at IOA headquarters against direct entry to the Asian Games. (PritishRaj/TheBridge)

The decision of the IOA-appointed ad-hoc committee, currently in charge of the WFI, to grant exemptions to Bajrang and Vinesh from selection trials has left the young wrestlers and their families fuming.

Antim Panghal, the U20 world champion, Sujeet Kalkal, the U23 Asian Champion, and wrestler Vishal Kaliraman have moved the Delhi High Court, challenging the ad hoc committee's decision.

Feeling cheated and betrayed

Talking to The Bridge, Ramniwas Panghal, father of Antim Panghal, said, "All these people you see here were the first ones to lend support to the wrestlers in their protesting against Brij Bhushan."

"Now, when they have been exempted from the (Asian Games) selection trials, they are silent as if nothing has happened. I fail to understand the basis of granting direct entry to them," he added.

The feeling of betrayal and cheating is doing rounds in the wrestling fraternity following the ad hoc committee's decision.

"Antim has been training hard for the last one year after missing the Commonwealth Games berth. They delayed the announcement first and now they are saying that even if she wins the trial, she will be on standby," he said.

Vinesh Phogat (53 kg freestyle) and Bajrang Punia (65 kg) were granted direct entry to the Asian Games by the ad-hoc committee based on their reputations, seniority and their international medals, including the ones they won at the 2022 World Championships and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The decision has left the supporters aggrieved, with people suggesting that the protest was a drama staged to get an exemption from trials for the Asiad.

"It is clear that they were protesting because they don't want to appear in the trials. If they are the best wrestlers, they have to earn it," Sujeet's father, Dayanand Kalkal, yelled from a distance.

"They (wrestlers) are not saying anything on this, and the ad-hoc committee is functioning like a bunch of fools. It is a grave injustice to the players who have been practicing for these trials," he added further.

Chaos in the ad-hoc committee

The ad-hoc committee led by Bhupinder Singh Bajwa said that they followed the rule book of the Wrestling Federation of India. But the technical experts on the committee, Gian Singh and Ashok Kumar, disagreed with it.

"We have always maintained that everyone should get a fair chance to represent India despite their status in the sport," Gian Singh told The Bridge.

Bajrang and Vinesh are currently training in Hungary and Kazakhstan as approved by Misson Olympic Cell and sponsored by Target Olympic Podium, making the selection trials almost impossible, with the deadline for sending the names of the wrestlers to the Asian Games organiser being July 23.

"As SAI sent these wrestlers abroad for training, our suggestion was to conduct another trial, featuring the winners from the first trials in specific weight categories, but it was ignored," he added.

The cat-and-mouse game between the committee members not only put the trials in limbo but also created confusion among wrestlers and fans alike.

Earlier, Olympic medallist and IOA executive committee member Yogeshwar Dutt slammed the uncertainty over the trials in the women's 53kg weight category and men's 65kg.

A confrontation also took place between parents and ad-hoc committee technical experts at the Indira Gandhi stadium, the venue for the two-day trials, where both tried to explain their sides.

As it stands, the fate of Antim Panghal and Sujeet Kalkal remains in the hands of the Delhi High Court and IOA ad-hoc committee while the Hindi phrase 'hume to apne ne loota, gairon me kahan dum tha' (We were betrayed by our own) perfectly captures the emotion of families accompanying the junior wrestlers.

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