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Young Wrestlers Struggle With Uncertain Future Amid WFI Turmoil

© Sputnik / Sputnik/Deexa Khanduri Young Wrestlers Performing At Delhi's Chandgiram Akhara
Young Wrestlers Performing At Delhi's Chandgiram Akhara - Sputnik India, 1920, 25.01.2024
In 2023, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) faced multiple scandals, resulting in the cancellation of national wrestling competitions for athletes under the age of 15 and 20. This has created an atmosphere of uncertainty over the possibility of holding these competitions in 2024, thereby impacting the future prospects of young wrestlers.
Prachi Singh, a 16-year-old wrestler, secured third place in the 2022 national wrestling competition. Despite facing disappointment last year when the under-15 category championship was canceled, Singh's determination remained unshaken.
© Sputnik / Sputnik/Deexa Khanduri 16-year-old Prachi Singh, a young wrestler
16-year-old Prachi Singh, a young wrestler  - Sputnik India, 1920, 24.01.2024
16-year-old Prachi Singh, a young wrestler
At Delhi's Chandgiram Akhara, Sputnik India met Singh, who expressed her uncertainties about the future, reflecting the shared concerns of many aspiring wrestlers. Singh has been wrestling since she was eight years old.
Most of the newcomers who have been training for many years didn't get a chance to perform amid controversy in WFI.

What's Behind WFI's Controversy?

Last year in January, wrestlers – including Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, prominent wrestlers Bajrang Punia, and Vinesh Phogat launched a protest in Delhi against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan over sexual exploitation, demanding his resignation.
In December 2023, the Sports Ministry suspended the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) until further notice. This decision was made in response to the sudden announcement from the newly-elected body to organise the long-awaited 2023 U-15 and U-20 national championships.

Wrestling In India

Deepak Chahar, a coach from the Sports Authority of India, told Sputnik India that wrestling in India is deeply rooted in a rich cultural heritage. According to him, this traditional sport demands immense levels of patience and unwavering discipline.
"It takes at least 10 years of hardship for a wrestler to get a medal at the national level. Most of the time, we don't see upper-middle or upper-class children participating in the sport. Most of the children practicing here either belong to wrestling families or come from rural parts of India," Chahar said.
When asked what could be the possible reason why only a certain class is involved in wrestling, Chahar said, "It's very cheap sports. Anyone can do it. All you need is Akhada, an open space, small land with soil (wrestling ground). Also, usually wrestlers get life-long scars on the face, hands, legs, or ears, or sometimes even injured for lifetime."
© Sputnik / Sputnik/Deexa Khanduri Chandgiram Akhara
Chandgiram Akhara - Sputnik India, 1920, 24.01.2024
Chandgiram Akhara
Chahar also stressed that while in other sports, athletes may expect to see significant results after 4-5 years of rigorous dedication, in wrestling, it typically takes at least 8-10 years to see substantial results.
Wrestling is a traditional sport in India, mainly practised in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and even mentioned in the epic. But, it was only recently when girls actively started participating in this sport.

Rising Stars On the Verge

Pooja Nithlekar, a remarkable 15-year-old from Telangana, not only holds the highest record in her state, but is also ambitiously preparing for national and international competitions. She's been living in a hostel for the past three years.
© Sputnik / Sputnik/Deexa Khanduri 15-year-old Pooja Nithlekar from Telangana
15-year-old Pooja Nithlekar from Telangana - Sputnik India, 1920, 24.01.2024
15-year-old Pooja Nithlekar from Telangana
"We don't have any information about when the national level competition will be held and which category I'll be participating in. I see a fear among many wrestlers like sometimes they talk about what will happen in the future," said Nithlekar.
"Be it, girls or boys, the matter concerned all of them…We tell all students that all the hard work won't go to waste, so keep preparing," Sudesh, a coach at Delhi Sports School, told Sputnik India.
"All these issues should be resolved soon; it's not good for sports and wrestlers," she said.

Why WFI Matters?

In India, wrestlers typically practise for a minimum of 5-6 hours per day. Many of them prioritise their wrestling career over education and enrol in wrestling academies. In order to secure employment opportunities in schools, universities, police forces, or other departments, athletes must earn medals in national or international competitions
The WFI holds exclusive authority over wrestling in India, organising wrestling events for athletes at a national and global level.
"If national-level competition gets delayed by a year or two, it would also create a backlog. It may also create problems for Indian athlete selection for international level, including Olympic," Sudesh added.
Indian wrestlers protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi - Sputnik India, 1920, 25.12.2023
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