Yesterday was a sad day for Sports. Today is sadder…

Sushil Kumar’s medal hopes die.

Yesterday was a sad day for the entire sporting fraternity. Legendary boxer and one of the most inspirational and respected sporting figures of 20th century, Muhammad Ali passed away. The entire world was saddened by the demise of a man not only regarded as arguably the best boxer ever but also an inspirational figure who showed us a new way of life through his speeches and beliefs. Today Sushil Kumar’s plea to conduct a wrestling trial with Narsingh Yadav for India’s entry into the 74-kg category freestyle wrestling event at the Rio Olympics has been rejected by Delhi High Court. And that is a scandal Indian sports fraternity will never be able to recover from.

Sushil Kumar has won two Olympic medals in 66-kg category of freestyle wrestling. Due to a weights revision by the World Wrestling Federation in 2013, Sushil had to switch to the 74-kg category to be able to participate. However, India already has another star-in-the-making in the 74-kg category — 26-year old Narsingh Yadav. He won the bronze medal at the World Championship in Las Vegas in 2015 and secured a quota place for India at the 2016 Rio Olympic games. Sushil couldn’t participate since he was nursing a shoulder injury. Now a quota place belongs to the country and not exactly to the player who won it. Hence, which wrestler actually represents India in the games is decided by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). It doesn’t mean that the player who has won that quota has a right to represent India in the games. However, traditionally that has been the case. In 2004, Delhi High Court passed a verdict that the wrestler who wins the quota should be sent for the Games after Kripashankar Patel challenged WFI’s decision to send Yogeshwar Dutt for the Athens Olympics.

But the problem here is with the rules of the Olympic games. After a country secures a quota place in an event, no sportsman can participate in any other subsequent events in the same event category in which an Olympic seat is on offer. Hence, even after returning from his shoulder injury, Sushil couldn’t have had any shot at the Olympic berth. What’s more is that he was allowed to continue his training for Olympics, kind of leading him on. Now what he’s demanding is a trial between him and Yadav to decide who should represent India in the 74-kg category in Rio. Because the WFI wouldn’t pay any heed to Sushil’s requests, he sought High Court’s intervention in the matter who today ruled that the WFI has the last say in the matter and that Narsingh Yadav should rightfully represent India dismissing Sushil’s demands.

The reason why this is sad is that because this is not good for sports. In fact, it is not good for anyone. It certainly isn’t good for Sushil. It’s not good for WFI and IOC who have, in past, been blamed for infusing politics and corruption in sports and this will only end up tarnishing their image further. After all, Sushil is the fan-favorite and not unjustly so. It certainly isn’t good for the meritocracy logic. We must remember Yadav only won the birth and hasn’t actually proved himself to be better than Sushil yet. At just 26, he is young and relatively inexperienced having no prior Olympic experience while Sushil on the other hand has two Olympic medals. And come to think of it, it’s not even good for Yadav himself. From here on, only one outcome can actually give him the satisfaction of winning. If he indeed wins the Gold for India. Would be the first ever to do so. At 26, I’d say that’s a tall effing order. Because even if he wins silver, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it fully as some people’d still say Sushil could have gotten us Gold. How well can he perform under such enormously gigantic pressure, only time will tell. But it’d have been nicer for him as well to defeat Sushil and silence his critics and the Junta once and for all. If not, at least he’d have taken one in his stride and taken one for the team. If I were him, it would have been an honor to face a double Olympian in a face-off, win or loss notwithstanding.

But we’re bereft of what could have been. Sure there are counterarguments that Sushil hasn’t played professionally since 2014 and Yadav is India’s new and in-form star carrying his form from a gamut of domestic and international tournaments. And the foreseeable fear of this having a domino effect. Every other wrestler/boxer demanding a trial. But are we not to read the circumstances at all? We’re talking about a man who has done nothing but serve his country to the best of his abilities and knowledge. A man who has won two Olympic medals for a nation which has never seen a double digits medals tally. A man who is himself saying that he doesn’t want to use his medals as leverage and is simply requesting for a just trial. He has been training hard and is fit and believes that he is the best man to do the job for India which by the way many concur. What could he have done differently? Why are we again unable to see the bigger picture? What is more important? Victory or vindication? For people who’d later want to lecture me on the ideals and constitutionalism, I’d like to remind them that we’re talking about a combat sport here. In which only victory matters. There is no room for idealism or politics. Then there is the logic of taxpayers’ money as well. Why is all of that spent and what’s the accountability? Isn’t the reason of spending all that money is to win medals and glory? Plus this isn’t anything illegal or unethical anyway. There is precedent for it. In past and in present. Just because a state High Court passed a ruling 12 years ago, doesn’t mean it became the writing on the wall.

What’s sad is that there is actually no accountability. The WFI has said that it can conduct the trials if the Sports Ministry directs them to. But the Sports Ministry has just shrugged off the responsibility. They refuse to get involved citing WFI is an independent body and they can’t interfere. But why the F can’t they? Aren’t they supposed to represent people’s interests and opinions? Last time I checked India was still a democracy and this comes in the effing job description? Fail to understand why hasn’t this been raised in the parliament yet. Some critics will argue that such frivolous issues shouldn’t be raised in parliament and waste it’s time. But why not? Wherever money is involved and there is doubt over it’s rightful spending, the matter should be raised in the parliament.

It’s a sad day for India and a sad day for sports in general. It’s sad because a combat sport which is supposed to be bereft of any politics has been grappled by it. It’s sad because meritocracy is the only thing that matters in a combat sport and what’s sadder is that it’s not even being given a chance. What’s sad is that we won’t be able to see Sushil perform — neither in the trials nor possibly in the Olympics. Who’s better Sushil or Yadav? What’s sad is that we’ll never know. What’s sadder is that we don’t even have a say.