India’s weighty issues
India found itself at the wrong end of the reforms announced by wrestling’s world governing body FILA. With the new rules, the country is staring at a nightmarish prospect of having to field just one of Sushil Kumar or Yogeshwar Dutt, both medal winners at London Olympics, for the Rio Games in 2016.
FILA dropped a weight category in freestyle wrestling on Tuesday while rejigging the existing ones. Grapplers will now compete in 57 and 65kg categories instead of the 55, 60 and 66kg classes, like they did at the 2012 London Games. For India, its three top wrestlers compete in these three categories — Amit Kumar, who won silver at this year’s world championships, in 55kg; London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar in 60kg and double Olympic medallist Sushil in 66kg. The revised weight category in freestyle wrestling would be 57, 65, 74, 86, 97 and 125kgs. The changes will come into effect from January 1.
It is expected that 20-year-old Amit, regarded as the best young talent in the country, will move his weight class from 55 to 57kg. Consequently, the toss up for the one remaining lightweight spot (65kg) is between Sushil and Yogeshwar. A country can field only one wrestler in one category, subject to qualification. “That’s a situation we never thought will arise,” says Sushil’s former coach Ramphal Singh. “We were expecting rule changes and knew there would be variations in weight categories but did not imagine we would have to choose between our two best wrestlers. However, we will try to find a solution.”
The solution, according to Wrestling Federation of India secretary and former coach Raj Singh, would be to move Sushil to middleweight (74kg) from existing 66kg and Yogeshwar to 65kg from 60. “We’ll have to weigh our options. The best possible way to accommodate all three wrestlers will be to move Sushil to middleweight (74kg). That way, all three will be available for selection. It will be very tough, however, for both, as they will have to gain five to eight kilos and also train differently. We will talk to our wrestlers and coaches and devise a strategy,” Raj said.
FILA had earlier decided to cut the men’s divisions from seven to six so it could add two women’s weight classes, thus ensuring a 6-6-6 split among the three disciplines. The changes were enforced to ensure wrestling remained on the Olympic program. The sport was dropped from the list of Olympic core sports in February, but was reinstated in September after the governing body promised to enforce changes intended to modernize it.
Raj, who is also the secretary of the Asian wrestling council, said he tried to put forth his position but the `powerful’ Eastern European lobby had its way. “I was present at those meetings and tried to put forward our view. We were of the opinion that the middleweight categories be merged and keep another lightweight category, maybe 69kg,” Raj explained. “Many Asian countries, which specialize in lightweight, were of the same opinion too. However, the majority wanted otherwise. The Eastern European countries are quite strong in middle and heavyweight. Hence, they decided to sacrifice a lightweight category.”
FILA has added two categories (61 and 70kg) for its competitions, including the World Championships, which will ensure India is spared of the selection quandary over two of its best wrestlers in these competitions. However, it is still not known what route the organisers of next year’s Commonwealth and Asian games will take. “We’ll have to wait and watch to see what decision is taken by those organisers. It’s something that is not in our hands,” Raj said.