The controversy surrounding wrestler Vinesh Phogat and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) refuses to die. The president of WFI, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, now wants to make an example out of Vinesh, who was suspended by the body for not staying at the Games village in Tokyo and sporting a singlet of her personal sponsor instead of the official one supplied by the Indian contingent. Vinesh had later apologised to the WFI, who had barred her from competitions on grounds of indiscipline and banned her from competing in the upcoming World Championship.
"I am not her enemy, and I have nothing personal against us. But IOC ke saamne jo jaleel aur beijjat hona pada… how could she wear a different costume? She is senior enough to understand there is a proper costume for every tournament. We have to look at other wrestlers too. India's wrestling isn't dependent on one wrestler. We have to make sure no one makes such mistakes in the future," he told The Indian Express in an interview.
'Had to Beg and Plead to Ensure the Team Did Not Get Debarred'
"It's easy to say 'I've made mistake'. But what made you commit that mistake, and why? These are senior wrestlers. Vinesh has replied through her lawyer and said she did not stay with the Indian team for the betterment of the other wrestlers so that they don't get exposed to the virus. Okay, maybe it was for others' good. But then why didn't she wear the costume? Because of that mistake, she has to know what all I had to undergo, what happened to me," he added.
Singh said he had to appear before a commission to answer for Vinesh's conduct and that of Deepak Punia's coach. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had cancelled the accreditation of Punia's coach Murad Gaidarov after he misbehaved with the referee after the bout, which Punia lost. Gaidarov was asked to leave the Tokyo Olympic Village and sent back to India.
"After Deepak Punia's incident happened, when his coach beat up one officials, I had to appear before a commission that had members from the United World Wrestling and International Olympic Committee. I had to ensure the team did not get debarred. I told them there has never been a case where our wrestlers have flouted any rules and expressed regret, but they questioned me, 'how do you run the federation. Your wrestler isn't wearing the (official) costume'. She could have lost a medal had she won. This isn't a small incident. I had to beg and plead," he told the daily.
'Vinesh Did Not Tell the WFI Who Her Physio Was'
Vinesh, who exited from the Olympics after a quarter-final defeat, soon opened up about her troubles, mental and physical, during the showpiece Games where she was without her physio.
Talking about the same, Singh told The Indian Express, "The Indian Olympic Association had set a limit on how many coaches and physios could go. And if you are coming to the issue of Vinesh not having her personal physio at the Olympics, she did not tell the federation who her physio was. How are we supposed to know unless she tells us?"
Assistant secretary Vinod Tomar also commented on the matter and said, "We had one chief coach and common freestyle coaches for both teams."
On being asked why the men's coach Rajiv Tomar had gone as women's team coach at the Tokyo Olympics, Vinod Tomar said, "He was there at the pre-departure camp in Sonepat. Since there is no difference in men's and women's freestyle wrestling, we had common coaches for both teams, and he was one of them."
'Vinesh Gave Her Proposal to TOPS, Not to Us'
Before the Tokyo Olympics, Vinesh had taken on the IOA and the wrestling federation after she was not allowed to have a physio with her during the games. A newspaper article claimed she had made a last-minute request for her physio's accreditation, which she shared and clearly stated that the request had been made much earlier.
On being informed that Vinesh had written multiple emails to the federation with all the details, Singh said, "She gave those proposals to TOPS, never to us directly. She should have given it to us. It has never happened that Vinesh approached the federation. This is my allegation against TOPS. They are directly overseeing issues like where the athlete should go for training."
On being asked if the issue was that Vinesh had sent the proposal to TOPS and not to WFI, Singh said," If it was our plan, then I could have sent my whole team. Bajrang and Vinesh were two very senior wrestlers. Their ranking was first-class going into the Olympics. They thought a certain plan was better for their future, so they told TOPS, who then told us. About planning, the federation had held just one national camp for women wrestlers since April. Anshu (Malik) went to some country for training after national camp, Poland, I think and after that either Russia or Belarus. I had sent the entire team. Vinesh was training in Hungary before that. I don't have any problem with them training abroad, but neither the India coach nor federation was taken into confidence. They took TOPS into confidence."
'We do not need OGQ and JSW'
Singh said TOPS are definitely needed in wrestling but should always take the chief coach and federation into confidence regarding their programmes.
The WFI is understood to be displeased with private sports NGOs like OGQ and JSW and say that it will not allow them to interfere in the affairs of the senior wrestlers in future. Vinesh is supported by OGQ, while Bajrang Punia gets support from JSW.
And Singh was absolutely clear on their role. "We do not need OGQ and JSW. They have spoilt three wrestlers. I won't name them. When the Indian government is ready to spend on the athletes, then why do we need them? They can support junior and cadet wrestlers who actually need support. Not just those who are close to winning a big medal. They aren't spending as much as the government, which has spent close to Rs 85 crore on the wrestlers. My biggest problem is they don't inform me who they are sending as sparring partners."
Singh said he won't allow any wrestler to play if they are connected with any of these private NGOs. "Bilkul nahi khelne doonga."
Asked about a wrestler like the Tokyo silver medalist Ravi Dahiya, who is supported by OGQ, Singh said, "Even I am giving Ravi Rs 1 lakh per month. From how many places will you take money? We are ready to give you everything. If they still want to be involved, they should share a copy of their agreement with the players and factor in our views."
The Olympic Gold Quest has been supporting wrestlers Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Deepak Punia for the last six years and has also been running a Junior Program for more than 100 junior athletes across various sports.
In their response, the OGQ said, "The Government and SAI are undoubtedly the biggest and most important stakeholders in Olympic sport. We have said time and again that the Government, SAI and TOPS are doing a brilliant job, especially in the last five years during the Tokyo Olympic cycle. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), the National Sports Federations and Non-Profits like OGQ have worked in close cooperation to ensure that the athletes get the best possible support, all gaps are covered and there is no overlapping of support."
Commenting on the Vinesh episode, the OGQ said, "Several emails were sent in the last ten months by Vinesh herself to WFI and TOPS. These emails had detailed information on the training plans for Tokyo, the coach and support staff and sparring partners for Vinesh. Finally, in the same spirit of teamwork and cooperation mentioned earlier, we sent a proposal to WFI on 24th March 2021 to work on three main aspects – Junior and Cadet wrestlers for the long term keeping Los Angeles 2028 Olympics in mind, Sports science and coaches."
(With inputs from The Indian Express)