If you are confused about the Indian wrestling crisis since the beginning of 2023, it is, but natural. The good news is the crisis has blown over. You will hopefully not see street protests, you will not see street optics, and you will not see river optics by the side of the Holy Ganges in Haridwar.
Developments over the last few days, almost a week, have been very smart and meaningful. That the dramatis personae in the whole episode, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat had to eventually back off, is now well known.
To be sure, the entire wrestling crisis has taught sports lovers one thing: Do not go by the narrative in social media and do not go by agenda-driven “journalism” being practiced by a few TV channels and media groups. Reality is far from what TV shows, reality is very different from what has actually transpired in the crucial last few days.
For all the allegations, bizarre ones that, that the Indian government did not care about the Indian wrestlers and own “betis” (daughters) is bilge. The Indian government does care about elite athletes and does it best. Just that these athletes played into the wrong hands from Day 1. What really needs to be probed is if any person(s) were behind the wrestlers and instigated them first in January 2023. It was beyond the imagination of these wrestlers, each a decorated one and having won medals for India, to take up this extreme step of protests.
Protest is allowed in a democracy, expressing resentment is allowed in a democracy. What is disallowed is fake news, changing the narrative, and making wrong allegations. The wrestlers are guilty of it, though the common perception is they speak solely the truth. First things first. When the initial protests took place in January, the mood was somber. People did hear the wrestlers. However, when the next protest took place at Jantar Mantar, with a minor also being dragged in, it was alarming.
News trickling in from several sources are hinting there is no minor wrestler at all who was traumatized. The second part is, even if there is a minor wrestler who has faced “harassment,” the complaint has been withdrawn. If that is the truth, as reported by several agencies, then the case falls flat. It is to be noted, the “Arrest Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh” campaign reached a shrill pitch.
All those who “campaigned” against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, including the wrestlers and some, well media houses, need to know there is a process followed by law. The Delhi Police is doing its investigation work, so for the common man, the media, and wrestlers to scream “arrest him” was going overboard.
The wrestlers have to focus again on their careers
On Monday, it was interesting to see the Twitter handles of the wrestlers saying they were being pressurized and “jobs were under threat.” Again, hyperbole. When one works for the Indian Railways or any state government job or PSU (public sector undertaking), there are service rules in place.
If the rule book was thrown at the wrestlers, that was very good. The taxpayers’ money is not meant to be wasted on people who do not work. India faces employment crisis, there is a demand-supply gap in the job market. For wrestlers to think they would be paid just to protest was wrong.
Ideally, the three wrestlers should have gone back to the national camps long ago. Their egos should be immersed in the Holy Ganges, not the medals they won for India. The wrestlers need to get over the drama staged in the last few months. Sadly, these wrestlers themselves now face charges from the Delhi Police for their acts of jumping barricades put up by the cops on the day the new Parliament Building was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The wrestlers must realize, each word they said in front of TV cameras, cell phone videos, and more, can be used against them. For them to have abused the heads of the Indian state was mindless. Who pushed these wrestlers so hard to go full tilt at the Indian government? Farmers, farmer unions, khaps? Whoever it is/was, the wrestlers realize today; they have to focus again on their careers.
When one says career, it is about resuming wrestling activity. They need to be part of national camps; they need to train. It is not possible to write them off as spent forces. At least make an attempt to give it your best shot. India is preparing for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China in September and the 2024 Paris Olympics. What is stopping Bajrang, Sakshi, and Vinesh from resuming training? Move on, guys.
If you think you have had enough with the sport, then get back to “offices” and work. There will be no free lunches in life.
Did the Indian government not engage with the Indian wrestlers? No, that’s a big lie. From Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Cabinet Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Anurag Thakur, they did hear out the wrestlers.
Last but not least, have faith in Delhi Police. The probe is very much on.
A word about the delayed elections to the Wrestling Federation of India. The electoral process must be set in motion at the earliest and the Indian Olympic Association ad-hoc body needs to hasten up things. Why give a chance to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United World Wrestling (UWW) to tell India what it must do in the sport and for its athletes? India has always taken care of its elite athletes, from training to medals and winning national awards.
It is now up to the misled wrestlers to make amends. They deserve a second chance if that be the right phrase.
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.
FirstSportz is the First Stop for all sports fanatics. Starting in 2019, we initially covered Olympic Sports, but in 2021 we added every other sport which you might be looking for, like NFL, Golf, MLB, WWE Cricket, Football, Tennis, Esports, NBA, MMA and more.