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In every country, there are different levels of competitions for sports. The aim of such competitions is to discover and nurture young talent, find the best athletes in the country and also to reward them for their hard-work and dedication.
In India as well, many national and state-level competitions are often organised for different sports. Nationals are arguably the most prestigious and the most esteemed level of competitions in the country. To help in explaining the value of the nationals and the prestige that they hold I’d like to draw out a comparison, it can be argued that an Indian national wrestling champion holds somewhat a similar level of prestige as an American NCAA Division 1 champion.
Being a national champion means that you are the best athlete that the country has to offer in a sport. Thus, nationals of all sports are venerated and highly respected.
A few days ago, grappling nationals were organised by the Grappling Federation of India. Athletes from all over the country came to Delhi to proudly represent their respective states. Some of the athletes were quite young and had high hopes from such a big tournament. However, it’s safe to say that their hopes were squashed soon and they were left with nothing but disappointment.
Before we dive further into discussing and scrutinizing the great debacle that happened. Let’s get a few questions out of the way:
What is the Grappling Federation of India?
Grappling Federation of India (GFI) is the national governing body for grappling sports in India to control and develop grappling sport in India. GFI is also the only national grappling association in India which is officially recognised by United World Wrestling (UWW).
What is the great debacle that GFI caused?
GFI is the governing body for grappling sports in the country and were expected to organise a national grappling competition. The nationals were organised but the arrangements, refereeing were extremely poor and some bias to favour a particular state is also suspected.
The tournament happened at the Chhatrasal stadium in Delhi. Chhatrasal is a beautiful sports stadium in Delhi which is particularly famous for its state-of-the-art wrestling arenas and for its highly decorated wrestlers such as Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, etc.
The grappling nationals were scheduled to take place in the stadium with arguably the best wrestling arenas in the country. It sounded perfect. Alas! the participants soon discovered a shocking fact, i.e. the nationals were taking place in the Chhatrasal stadium but not in its state-of-the-art grappling arenas. The nationals instead happened in the PARKING LOT of the stadium on makeshift mats!
What’s even more shameful is the fact that the GFI had advertised the nationals to take place in a state-of-the-art arena. Below is a promotional poster for the event:
The MMA India Show’s team tried investigating this fiasco and thus got in touch with a couple of athletes who participated in the nationals. The revelations and allegations they made were shocking and distressing. Below is what those athletes had to say about the GFI and the nationals:
On the nationals being held in a parking-lot:
Kartik (Name changed): “These guys (GFI) organised the nationals in the car-parking area of the Chhatrasal stadium. I’ve participated in nationals before. I’ve seen a lot of nationals as well. This was simply the worst nationals ever.
Forget about air conditioning, there wasn’t even proper ventilation down there. It wasn’t properly cleaned, we were surrounded by a lot of garbage. They shoved us in that parking-lot and treated us like cockroaches. They probably wanted to save some money on the arena’s rent to earn a quick buck. Hence, they rented the parking-lot of the arena.
We were made to pay 5300 rupees and still weren’t even provided with proper drinking water. There wasn’t any arrangement for the athletes to sit as well.”
On bad refereeing, favouring Haryana, etc:
Kartik: “States have matches of 5 minutes per round. Nationals should have had rounds of at least 5 minutes. Instead they started the tournament with 3 minute-rounds and as the tournament came to its conclusion they started decreasing the duration of the rounds. The finals of senior’s Gi and no-gi tournament had rounds of just 1 minute. You can’t do anything inside a minute.
The referees were incompetent. They weren’t even educated about the sport they were refereeing in, they were calling ‘armbar’ a ‘handlock’ and “rear-naked choke” a “neck choke”.
A man who refereed in a match, went back, changed his clothes and came back to participate in the tournament. On the other hand, a referee disqualified me for using an inverted triangle choke (a legal move) without any prior warnings, whereas a guy from Haryana wasn’t disqualified for it. They were trying to favour Haryana. When I protested, the referee rudely told me to “Get out!”.
To participate in the national’s you have to play the state’s first, but many athletes had been given direct entry to the nationals without even playing the states.”
The entire controversy doesn’t end here. There is another side to the entire GFI debacle. Below is another athlete’s account of how him and his team were barred from participating in the tournament:
Daniel (Name changed): “We reached the venue on Friday. However, we were told that our names had not been registered on time and the organisers had still not received our participation fees money. I was the leader of my team, so I told Mr. Shiv Panchal (General Secretary of GFI) that our participation fees will soon be submitted and requested him to let us participate in the tournament. He agreed. However, even though we were from Delhi and had to represent Delhi, he asked us to represent Chandigarh. Everyone just wanted to participate, so we agreed to represent Chandigarh. We were also made to pay a hiked participation fees, my coach Shailesh (name changed) (Founder of XXX Club-name changed) sent the money and we were registered to compete.
We kept waiting the entire day for our match. We were later told that our matches will be on Saturday. The next morning when I woke up, I read a text from Shailesh saying that we won’t be allowed to participate. Apparently, Shiv Panchal had texted him that we will not be allowed to compete.
There was a BJJ scam in the news recently where BJJ blue-belts were distributed for a sum of money. It was even covered by Bjjee.com. Mr. Panchal apparently suspected that members of the XXX Club had been in touch with bjjee.com and had helped in bringing that entire scam to light. So, Panchal had sent Shailesh a screenshot of that article and had told him not to send his guys to participate in the tournament. He strictly told us that we won’t be allowed to compete. He did return the money but didn’t let us compete because of some personal vendetta.”
In the wake of such a blunder, we tried contacting Mr. Shiv Panchal to know what he had to say about the botched nationals. He initially seemed quite eager to do an interview but as soon as we asked him about the nationals, he hung up the phone and has been avoiding our calls ever since.
A national-level tournament being organised in the basement of a stadium is simply shameful, as is the refereeing fiasco and not letting a team participate because of some personal vendetta. However, what’s even more baffling is that allegedly the sports minister of the nation, Mr. Vijay Goel attended the tournament and was in attendance for about 15 minutes. Apart from him, Satpal Singh (Sushil Kumar’s coach) was also present at the event. If such blunders can allegedly happen in the presence of the sports minister as well as a Padmabhushan then the future of sports, particularly combat sports in the country seems to be dark and bleak.
The purpose of this article isn’t to criticize the GFI but to help in getting some justice for those athletes who suffered in the scorching heat of Delhi, for those who got unjustly disqualified and for those who weren’t even allowed to participate.
The MMA India Show as well as the entire combat sports community humbly requests the authorities to look into and investigate this entire blunder.
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