The Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav case pretty much typifies how sports are played in India. More so, it shows how administrators and athletes play it as per their own rules.
This whole episode of who will be India’s pick for the 74-kg freestyle at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is typical of how everyone wants to be on the bandwagon, with no one actually too interested or hopeful of actually winning anything.
For one, we have Yadav, a World Championship bronze medallist and a quota place winner for the Rio Games. He is young and hopeful, full of beans and out of the pretty big shadow of Sushil.
Or so he thought.
One of India’s biggest problems is that we think more with the heart than the head. Sushil Kumar is a darling of all those who are into Olympic sports.
Sushil is, after all, the only Indian athlete to win medals in two Olympics, something that doesn’t seem likely from the way things are going nowadays.
He is from that school of all-time favourite sportspersons– Sachin Tendulkar, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Viswanathan Anand and Yuvraj Singh.
Now, these are people who don’t fail. Even if they do, we don’t accept that they have. Any defeats or reversals are aberrations and they’ll be back on top again, soon.
In that same vein, they cannot be left out.
Remember the hue and cry whenever anyone demanded Tendulkar retires? It was like someone had demanded that the British come back to rule us for another 200 years!
Basically, these people need to be in action and irrigate our overactive imaginations and enthusiasm for unending years.
This is where Sushil is. An unassuming and rather quiet person, the little big man has been a poster boy for Indian’s Olympic adventures since Beijing in 2008.
So when he claims that he has recovered from an injury that has kept him out of action for long and demand that he be given another shot at a medal, few people would say no.
But that is where the problem is.
You cannot send two people for the same event. So Sushil, back in form, demanded that there be trials, where he would wrestle Yadav and the winner takes it all.
Essentially, this is the akhara version of pistols at sunrise. The winner takes the prize while the loser is carried away.
The Wrestling Federation of India, the apex body which has to make the decision, finds itself in an unenviable position.
In normal situations, the quota place claimant is the person who would don the India colours. That would have been great, if it was the other way around.
But it isn’t that way, so the WFI is hemming, hawing and basically wishing the problem would go away. But that is not going to happen.
As it turns out, there may be trials after all. After initial reports on Thursday morning that WFI may opt for Yadav, Sushil immediately got into action, demanding a “fair trial as per procedure”.
And since he is one of those who can’t be denied, he is most likely to get his way.
Yadav had no reason whatsoever to oblige Sushil or his camp.
He has the quota place, so it wouldn’t be unfair or an overreach for him to stick to his guns. Also, if the WFI directs a fight-off and Yadav declines, he may find himself out in the cold.
After all, officialdom anywhere in the sporting world doesn’t take well to defiance. Unless you’re one of those eternal favourites.
This is a vexed issue. With the Games beginning on August 5, our athletes are still oscillating in uncertainty. A sad state of affairs for a contingent that can ill afford any reverses beyond the ones waiting for them at Rio.
RIP Tony Cozier: The news of the death of eminent cricket journalist and broadcaster Tony Cozier came quite out of the blue, even though he had been suffering from ill health for quite a while.
Cozier, who began covering cricket in 1958, was one of the lasting images surrounding cricket in the West Indies. He was as much as icon in the sport in the Caribbean as the likes of Brian Lara and Michael Holding.
His dry humour and astute observations about cricket will be missed.