If there is something called Divine Justice in Indian sports, it happened on Thursday in Belgrade, Serbia, when Antim Panghal won a bronze medal in the World Championship. The medal that Antim won was one of labor, on and off the mat.
This medal is Antim’s for sure, but after the world body (UWW) suspended the Weightlifting Federation of India for not holding elections, Antim competed under a neutral flag. By winning an Olympic quota place for India in the Paris 2024 Games, Antim has done proud. But the larger picture and topic is how she had to fight on so many flanks.
Since the start of 2023, the wrestling controversy has shaken Indian sports. Protests, dharnas, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik hitting the streets, probe by Delhi Police and outgoing President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh hauled over coals. All wrong news was grabbing headlines. For its part, the ad hoc body in place to control the sport in India has also not done a great job.
And when the ad hoc body said that there would be no trials for Bajrang and Vinesh for the Asian Games, it was unfair. Antim has done well in not only clinching the trial but also a medal in the World Championship. To keep the negatives away is not easy at all. Yet, the one big regret is, that this medal does not belong to India, as the nation has been suspended by the UWW. They run the World Championship.
On the eve of the Asian Games opening ceremony in Hangzhou, the stir is if this medal from Antim could have been the right tonic for the Indian athletes at large. Sadly, no, because India’s name does not figure in the World Championship. As the Asian Games are held under the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia) banner, there is no threat to Indian wrestlers competing in Hangzhou. Bajrang Punia is aware he is under the scanner. As for Vinesh, she had to undergo a knee injury and a return in 2023 is ruled out.
Shame that Antim Panghal’s medal does not belong to the country
Ideally, Antim winning the medal should be a tonic for all the Indians in Hangzhou. There is happiness and celebration in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, though rain is an irritant.
It’s strange how the elections to the wrestling body in India have been delayed and the courts are intervening repeatedly. This is affecting the image of India abroad and all the efforts made by Indian grapplers is sullied. There can be no disagreement the Government of India is spending massive sums of money on athletes who are preparing in a gamut of disciplines.
Once the suspension came from the UWW, it should have shaken up everyone. Did not the same happen in 2022, when the world football body FIFA suspended India? A new constitution to the All India Football Federation was put in place, and Kalyan Chaubey was finally elected. The same alacrity should have been shown for wrestling as well in India.
It’s not nice when people murmur that India is under suspension from the world body in wrestling. The seasoned wrestlers, past prime, can play politics and games and use social media. However, the Sports Ministry has dragged its feet vis-à-vis wrestling in India. Elections should have been done and dusted. The medal from Antim Panghal does not belong to India/Bharat.
It hurts every sporting fan. The sense of national pride gets affected when success comes in this sport, against all odds.
S.Kannan is a sportswriter with 35 years of experience. He has covered four Olympics, multiple Asian Games and the Grand Slams. Kannan has watched all sports at the grassroots level, national level and international level. He also does appear on radio shows. At First Sportz, Kannan is Lead Editor and Mentor.
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