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Has Sushil Kumar forced himself into a downward spiral from which he cannot recover?

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Sushil Kumar (right) is a two-time Olympic medallist

Has Sushil Kumar forced himself into a downward spiral from which he cannot recover?

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sounak mullick

05/25/2021

Sushil Kumar, considered India’s greatest Olympian, now finds himself in a Delhi prison after his alleged involvement in a murder case. With already negative criticism overflowing from all corners, can he really regain his lost reputation or is he going to fade away into thin air?

Building up a reputation takes years of hard work, discipline and toil, while on the flip side it only takes a moment of carelessness to concede all of it in one shot. How unfair is it? But that’s how the world works and Sushil Kumar was not an exception to defy the norms. Two Olympic medals had propelled him to an immortal status in the country, which could have been neutralised only with the cruellest of circumstances. Alas, Sushil has seen himself wind up in one such act.

It was last month that a brawl outside the Chhatrasal Stadium, in Delhi, led to the murder of an international wrestler – Sagar Dhankad. Not 24 hours past the incident, Delhi Police issued an arrest warrant against Sushil Kumar, with their scrutiny that surfaced that he might be allegedly involved in the case. The Indian sports fraternity was shocked. What doubled the intensity was how Sushil Kumar dashed to evade the cops, only to see himself taken into custody after 18 days of playing cat-and-mouse.

But controversies and Sushil Kumar go hand in hand. Let’s turn back the clock to 2016.

Already a winner of two Olympic medals, Sushil was eyeing to extend his record at the 2016 Rio Games, yet qualification was a hurdle that he had to overcome before dreaming big. However, with his recent form and lack of international competition following his gold medal win at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Delhi-based grappler was overlooked for the mega-event.

Narsingh Yadav, who was deemed to be in better shape than the veteran, was nominated for the 74kg event.  As for selection, the quota belongs to the country, not the wrestler - a rule which the WFI (Wrestling Federation of India) exercised to reach the conclusion. It was fair by every means, with India justifiably given top priority.

However, the prospect of being robbed off a third Olympic medal vexed Sushil Kumar to an unbearable extent, prompting him to take action when all the odds were stacked against him. The former World Champion requested a face-off with Narsingh to decide on the Olympic spot, taking the issue to Delhi High Court. The plea was revoked and the Sports Ministry stuck with their decision to send Narsingh. It was an open and shut case till then, but the drama which followed came straight out of a thriller film script.

Days later, Narsingh Yadav was tested positive for methandienone, a banned steroid for building muscle, as reported by the NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency). The wrestler was provisionally suspended and was about to face a disciplinary hearing. Controversy cropped up when the guilty pointed out that he was a victim of sabotage, with the WFI also backing his claim. The case gained direction when it was found that Narsingh’s roommate at the SAI centre, in Sonepat, was also tested positive for the drug.

The theory could have been tough to prove if not an ‘invisible guest’ trespassed out of the blue. The unnamed intruder supposedly spiked food supplements when the wrestler was away. Narsingh, ever-determined to make the Rio cut, sought help from the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation).

Anonymous sources revealed that the intruder was a 65kg category wrestler and younger brother of an international grappler. Dramatically, the missing piece of the imaginary puzzle was put together when it was rumoured that the unknown infiltrator belonged to Sushil Kumar’s academy, in Delhi! Joining the dots required no rocket science.

Even though Narsingh returned positive for his second sample, he was eventually sent to Brazil after backing from WFI and IOA (Indian Olympic Association). However, the climax was left, with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) after further dissecting felt that there was no evidence to prove his innocence. 

The wrestler was banned for four years just hours before his first bout at the Games, leaving India with no athlete in the 74kg category. As things stood, India missed out on an Olympic berth and Sushil Kumar was subjected to huge face loss, in spite of his several attempts to wipe out the stains. That was a bitter end to a dark chapter that had no substantial conclusion.

Five years later, in 2020, Sushil found himself in a similar juncture, when he was overlooked for India’s probables for the Tokyo Olympics. But, with the ageing muscles, there was hardly any ground for the 37-year old to claim a stake. With Sushil Kumar not proved guilty in the Narsingh Yadav case, the former could have seen through the dying days of his career without any controversies. The three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist did not make a fuss about the selection, while his rumoured involvement of sabotage was slowly fading away through the sands of time.

Yet, fresh assault stuck, ironically just a couple of months ahead of the Olympics. As things stand, the greatest Indian Olympian is on the verge of dethroning his crown and possibly in the worst possible way. Already behind bars, the WFI has brushed away any thoughts of lending a hand of support for its most decorated wrestler. The federation even went on to say that the incident would dented their reputation in a massive way. Sushil Kumar’s fall was empathizing material, yet the turn of events made it clear that he called for all of it.

Going with the trend, we might see Sushil Kumar bailed out in the upcoming days, but he would be greeted with contrasting reception from the commons. With the latest developments surfacing, the ghosts of the past also re-ignited at the same time, leaving Sushil Kumar in a vulnerable position as per reputation is concerned. If rumour carries some sort of facts, then pardoning the legendary wrestler after his involvement in two felonious acts would be far from a simple act. Can he really regain the lost glory?

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