MUMBAI: They came. They touched his feet. They forfeited. That sums up the farce that was enacted by the contestants at the National Wrestling Championship in Indore when facing two-time Olympic Bronze medallist Sushil Kumar, who incidentally last competed in the nationals in 2008, when he was at the top of his game.
Back in action after three long years, has he still got game? One can't really tell. And since none of his opponents were willing to test it, the Wrestling Federation of India of course have a fig leaf to wave if questions are asked.
Mumbai Mirror summed up the travesty of a sporting contest that was enacted in Indore perfectly, thus: "Round of Applause (emphasis ours) — 1st Round: Mizoram’s Lalmalsawma by technical fall in 48 seconds. 2nd Round: Mukul Mishra in a minute and 45 seconds. Quarter-final: Praveen (walkover). Semi-final: Sachin Dahiya (walkover). Final: Parveen Rana (walkover)"
Interestingly, the Indore charade was played out to a similar script during Sushil Kumar's qualification for the nationals as well, Mirror reports. The 34-year-old qualified for the Indore Nationals without a fight at the trials conducted by his employers the Railways. During the trials at Chhatrasal Stadium in New Delhi, junior national champion Dinesh stepped up on the mat, touched Sushil’s feet, and handed a walkover. The other opponent, Parveen Rana, remained absent.
Had Rana already reserved his feet touching for the final and therefore the no show?
Indian Express, meanwhile, had this original take on what was witnessed. "The word inside the stadium is that the three conceded out of respect (emphasis ours) for their senior wrestler."
And Times of India quotes the referee as having applauded the gesture of the two wrestlers, saying, "Dekhiye, yehi humari parampara hai (Look, this is our tradition)."
Former national women's freestyle coach Kripa Shankar Bishnoi, who was present at the venue, told TOI, "This was expected. Saare pehelwaan Sushil se thar thar kaapte hai (All the wrestlers are scared of Sushil). The finalist (Rana), in fact, came to the mat with his shoulders already drooping. I knew he wasn't in a mood to fight Sushil and was just there to tell the referee that he was conceding the bout."
Interestingly, TOI had another nugget of information to offer about Rana. The daily reveals that the wrestler used to train at the Chhatrasal Stadium akhada in Delhi till last year. He received his formal training there. Sushil also trains at the Chhatrasal. Currently, Rana trains under Arjuna awardee Satyawan Pehelwaan in Rohtak, Haryana. Satyawan is the father-in-law of Rio Olympics Bronze medallist Sakshi Malik.
For all those who carp about how WWE is choreographed wrestling staged according to a script, no one can deny that it is a spectacle performed by supremely fit athletes. The kneeling and scraping witnessed at Indore belong to a wholly different stage that has zero connection to sport.
Where does the Wrestling Federation stand in all this, we wonder.