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Trials for Paris Olympics wrestling quota winners before final selection

By admin Nov26,2023

Indian wrestlers who earn Paris Olympics quota berths will also have to win the selection trials at home to confirm their spots, according to a new selection policy announced by the ad-hoc committee governing the sport on Saturday.

Image used for representational purpose

The earlier policy gave quota winners direct entry for the Olympics. An Olympic quota in wrestling is for the country and not the wrestler who wins it, and this rule change provides flexibility for selecting the best wrestlers based on form and fitness. The Wrestling Federation of India has faced flak in the past for clearing quota winners directly. The controversy between 74kg quota winner Narsingh Yadav and two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar – his court petition seeking trials was rejected – marred the build-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

So far, only Antim Panghal (53kg) has secured a quota spot, after winning bronze at the world championships in September. There are two more events – Asian Olympic Qualifier in Kyrgyzstan from April 19-21 and World Olympic Qualifiers in Turkey from May 9-12 – where Indian wrestlers can earn berths. The Olympics competition will have six divisions each in freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s wrestling.

The new selection policy borrows heavily from that of the United States. It provides a cushion to the quota winner, who will face a ‘challenger’ — the winner of the trials. In the ‘wrestle off’, the quota winner needs to win once to seal his/her place while the challenger must win twice in a row.

The new policy gives an opportunity to Vinesh Phogat (53kg), who is recovering from knee surgery. The two-time world championships medallist will have to come through a two-stage competition to qualify for the ‘wrestle off’ against Antim. Vinesh must first finish in the top four at the trials in February (to select teams for the two Olympic qualifiers and Asian meet). The quartet will then compete in a Nordic format (round robin) on May 31 to decide the challenger.

“A fair and transparent selection policy was needed so that our best wrestlers compete at the Olympics. This policy gives an opportunity to our top wrestlers to be part of the selection process,” said ad-hoc committee member Bhupinder Singh Bajwa.

The panel has run the administration since WFI’s suspension in May following protests by top wrestlers against the outgoing president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh alleging sexual harassment. The case is in the court.

The WFI election process, which was in its final phase, has been stayed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The federation though has been de-recognised by the United World Wrestling (UWW) due to delay in holding the elections. The Supreme Court, which had refused to vacate the stay, is due to hear a plea on November 28.

“We don’t know when WFI elections will be completed. The matter is in courts. Our job is to ensure that the preparation for the Paris Olympics does not suffer. The players should know about the selection policy before the start of the season. We are soon going to announce national championships and national camps to prepare for the Olympic qualifiers,” Bajwa said.

The national camp did not take place last year and wrestlers prepared for major events at their own training centres. The ad-hoc committee also announced that wrestlers who finish in the top four at the senior nationals will be called for the camp along with the Asian Games and world championships medal winners.

The panel has changed the format for the selection trials to pick the squad for the two Olympic qualifiers. In the two-day trials (Feb 27-29), the first day will see knock-out competitions to pick the two finalists. The winner of the best-of-three bout final the next day will go for the qualifiers. The losing finalist will get to compete at the Asian Championships. Only Antim has been exempted from the February trials and cleared to compete at the Asian Championships.

Everyone, including Tokyo Olympics medallists Ravi Dahiya, who is recovering from knee surgery, and Bajrang Punia as well as 2021 world championships medallist Anshu Malik must take part in the February selection trials.

By admin

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