The initial publishing of this article turned a lot of eyes towards the Grappling Federation of India (GFI) Nationals in which some athletes alleged discrepancies by the GFI management . We had got in touch with Mr Shiv K Panchal, general secretary of GFI, for his feedback and comments on the athletes allegations but after initially agreeing to an interview, as soon as the writer mentioned GFI Nationals, Mr Panchal asked why we want to speak on that topic and put the phone down and refused to take our calls after that. Once the article was published Mr Panchal got in touch with us and asked us how we could publish the article without his comments and without checking the veracity of the allegations and also asked for proof of the athletes allegations. He disputed the claims by us that he had put the phone down and again stated that there was no evidence for the same. Mr Panchal had a long discussion with us and also agreed to be interviewed for The MMA India Show and said he wanted the athletes who were making the allegations to also face him and that he was ready to face them anywhere. He told us that he didn’t have a Skype account so The MMA India Show agreed to make him one and tested the same with him and fixed a time to do the interview. Two athletes, namely Kushal Vyas and Srikant Sekhar (a 2015 grappling national 85kg gold winner in No GI and 85kg silver winner in GI), also agreed to speak to him via Skype as he requested but just a couple of hours before the scheduled interview Mr Panchal sent us a message stating that he was not comfortable speaking via Skype and we could interview him in his office (in Haryana) if we wanted, otherwise we could use his emails and his conversations as his statements which we are now doing and updating the article with the same-
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 organized 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.
From July 21st-23rd 2017, the grappling nationals were organized by the Grappling Federation of India. Athletes from all over the country came to Delhi to proudly represent their respective states. Some athletes contacted us to say that their hopes were squashed and they were left with disappointment.
Before we dive further 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 recognized by United World Wrestling (UWW).
What are the greivances against GFI ?
GFI is the governing body for grappling sports in the country and were expected to organize a national grappling competition. The nationals were organized but according to some athletes the arrangements, refereeing were extremely poor and some bias to favour a particular state is alleged.
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 and as the athletes soon discovered that happened in the PARKING LOT cum BASEMENT of the stadium, which Mr Panchal has stated is the only indoor space available in Chatrasal Stadium.
The GFI had advertised the nationals with some pictures from their previous nationals which took place at the Talkatora Stadium and the video on their FB page which advertised that the Nationals would be appearing live on July 23rd 2017 also showed images from an indoor stadium which can be clearly be seen as not being from the basement indoor stadium of Chatrasal :
Mr Panchal stated ‘Have you know from last 10 Years many sports including Olympic sports were held at that Basement. This Basement was venue of these sport event of School Games Federation of India’s National tournaments.’ He further added ,’ You know in this Basement Olympic Medalist players are training every day’ and ‘You know every year here SGFI have National and in that Tournaments DELHI CM has CHIEF GUEST?’
Below is what some athletes had to say about the GFI and the nationals:
On the nationals being held in a parking-lot:
Kushal: “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.”
The MMA India Show would like to state that Kushal sent us a whats app message from the state federation to back his claim of being asked to pay Rs 5300.
On bad refereeing, favouring Haryana, etc:
Kushal: “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!”.
The MMA India Show asked Kushal for proof that the finals of senior’s GI and NO GI were just one minute rounds and also that a referee particpated as an athlete, he replied that he was not able to make a video of the same and that it is actually GFI which should be documenting all the fights and they were supposed to be airing the fights live on July 23rd which never happened. When we asked Mr Panchal, we did not receive any video proof of the fights and he put the onus of proving the allegations on the athletes.
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.”
To this Mr Panchal replied that there was a problem with Delhi’s entries so many last minute entries were accepted.
We also had an athlete Daniel(name changed) who gave his account of the GFI nationals, Mr Panchal told us an athlete named Rajeev Jha had sent him an apology but we neither confirm nor deny that this is the same athlete who spoke to us and since we were not asked to retract the statement by the alleged athlete himself, we have kept it the same below but are also reproducing the apology sent to Mr Panchal.
Mr Panchal also stated that CrossTrain, Delhi did not send their entries on time and hence were not allowed to participate and he did try to get them to enter through Chandigarh to help them, but the other state federations protested hence they were not able to participate.
Daniel (Name changed): “We reached the venue on Friday. However, we were told that our names had not been registered on time and the organizers 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 Crosstrain Fight 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.”
Mr Panchal rightly pointed out to us that the BJJ scam had nothing to do with the GFI Nationals and as we have mentioned, he has already stated that they were not allowed to compete because their entries were sent late.
We leave it to the readers to decide whether the Grappling Nationals should take place in the basement/parking lot of a stadium which Mr Panchal has stated is an Indoor Stadium.
Mr Shiva Panchal further stated-
Shiv Panchal: “People have accused that the GFI was biased in sending the athletes for the Asian Championship last year. They accused that we did not inform the athletes before sending a team to the championship. However, I’d like to reveal that we did not send any team to the Asian Championship previous year. Can anyone produce any evidence that we did send a team last year to the Asian Championship?
As for the tournament happening in the basement, I’d like to share that Chhatrasal has no indoor arenas. Though, it’s a hub of wrestling. Hence, we felt obligated to organize a tournament at least once there.
On the water crisis, I’ll only say that we did arrange a lot of water but we ran out of it. Even at our homes we do run out of water. Thus, it took quite a while before we were again able to arrange some water.
I became GFI head in 2013. Since then we got recognition for grappling as a sport in school games, we made it a recognized university sport as well. The government of India has also officially given recognition to the sport. When an athlete does well in the all-India university games, he can also go ahead to get a job in the Police. It’ll be great for their careers. No one talked about the good we’ve done for the sport and how we’ve helped in developing it in the country.
We’ve never even charged any athlete for athlete registration fees. No athlete has ever given us any registration fee and later they make such vague allegations on us. We are just a sports federation, we don’t get any financial help from the government.
The athletes who’ve made these allegations should give proper evidence about all the allegations that they’ve made.”
Mr. Panchal also sent us the following pictures to support his claim:
Kushal Vyas was the other athlete who had previously shared his plight with us. He had represented Team Maharashtra in the grappling nationals. After Mr. Panchal expressed uncomfort in conducting for a Skype interview, Kushal gave his final remark on this entire controversy. Below is an excerpt from his statement:
“I was asked to pay 5300 bucks as fees to the state head, Mr. Santosh Deshmukh. I do not have any problems with the fees as I realise that GFI hasn’t got any sort of a grant or any sponsorship from the government. Though, it is certainly unfair to organize the tournament in the parking lot of a stadium. I can be more lenient about the venue but I can never accept the fact that the duration of the bouts was only a minute for all the qualifiers and the final bout. Sensei Shiv Panchal is the head of GFI and a grappling enthusiast so he must be aware that it takes more than a minute to take an opponent down and control him. The athletes put in months of hard-work to compete in such prestigious tournaments and to win the championships and a single minute isn’t enough to properly do justice to all the talent that we have and all the hard-work that we’ve put in.
I was disqualified for using an inverted triangle-choke. I’ve seen the rule book and it’s not an illegal submission. Even if it is an illegal move then I should have been given a warning first. I used the same submission in the State’s as well but wasn’t disqualified there. I had a much better experience competing in the State’s than in the National’s.”
After the GFI grappling allegations came to light, The MMA India Show was contacted by another athlete, Srikant Sekhar (a 2015 grappling national 85kg gold winner in No GI and 85kg silver winner in GI) who wanted to share his experiences of participating in the National’s of 2015. Here’s what he had to say:
“I went for the eighth GFI national event which they held in a university in Rohtak. Just before the bout started, I noticed that people were sitting nearby attending a lecture. A foreigner with black or brown-belt in BJJ was giving the lecture to everyone. Apparently, they were training referees there, it was a national grappling event where the referees were being trained right before the event. That was a huge shock for me. A workshop was being conducted where they were teaching and educating the referees about the sport.
I was scared because I’ve been training for years and I would have been judged by referees who took a hour long crash-course about the sport. It was evident that the referees were from a wrestling background because in grappling you are not allowed to slam people on the mat. However, the referees there allowed slams in a grappling tournament.
Even during the bouts, the referees were clueless and were looking towards the foreigner and asking him on how many points should be given.
I wish I had proof of all the statements I’ve made but I can’t put a go-cam over my head every time I roll. I wish GFI had proof, I wish GFI had documentation, I wish they had cameras all over.
They didn’t even have medals. I had to borrow someone else’s medal to pose for a picture in the newspaper. All they gave us was a certificate.
I feel a lot of the problems can be solved by having more tournaments and competitions. I want a good standard of competition, where the referees are good in standard and have previously received proper training.”
Mr Panchal replied by saying everyone was given medals and they can’t chase athletes to come to the podium when called.
There have been a lot of allegations from the athletes as well as from the GFI, however it seems to be reasonable for the athletes to expect that the tournament be organized at a better venue with proper ventilation, water and other facilities but as we know in our country, these things are easier said than done.
The MMA India Show is not here to conjecture and infer. The purpose that this article serves is to bring the athletes and federation together and getting them discussing how the sport can be bettered in our country. We hope that the GFI and the athletes can resolve their differences, end the quarreling and help further develop grappling in the country. But one thing we would like to state is that this atmosphere of vendetta if an athlete airs his opinion and not allowing them to participate or creating hurdles in their participation should stop. The recently submitted Olympic Task Force recommendations state that ‘The primacy of athletes and coaches to be maintained at all times’. The management of all federations/associations must realize that they are here to serve and better the athlete and not the other way around.
We are not stating or implying that this is what is happening in the GFI, but we all know that this is a problem with Indian Sports Bodies and the sooner this Ji Huzoori culture is ended, the better.
All Indian Combat Sports bodies should read the Olympic Task Force recommendations once they become public and try and follow them in an endeavor to better Indian sports at every level.
The new Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore has also stated that the sports officials should give up their administrator mentality.
The MMA India Show would like to state that all athlete’s and federation’s opinions and statements in this article are their own and The MMA India Show makes no guarantee,assurance or undertaking as to the veracity and truthfulness of either side’s statements.