If there is a place where Americans, Russians, Iranian and even North Koreans cheer together, it is the wrestling arena. But past few days have been very disturbing to all peoples associated with it, as a player or as a spectator, since the spread of news of its possible expulsion after Rio’16 from Olympic family. 3 pleas were presented for expulsion at first round- viewership, global acceptability and history and it demands a close scrutiny dismissing it all and it goes as follows.
If wider acceptability is to be measured then consider following supporting figures. 18 Gold medals were grabbed by grapplers at London ‘12, with 72 medals at stake and the big pie was shared by 22 nations, representing all the continents, except AUS. If viewership is to be considered then noteworthy point is that Excel arena was always full to the capacity, and twice more were standing outside, enjoying wrestlers battling hard on giant screens. The simple rule bound muscle’s strength show had made it easily comprehensible and widely acceptable in all the continents and spectators have filled the stands from local mud akharas of village to yellow mats of Air conditioned stadiums of national capitals around the globe. The greatest quality or say beauty that this ancient grappling art posses is that to play this game, one require no paraphernalia.
15000 years old cave drawings in France appear to have depicting pictures similar to men engaging in art of wrestling. China has pictures some 4000 years old, Egyptians has murals and images as old as 2000 BC of this sport. Ancient Greek and Roman penchant for it is widely known. The dances of various animals, particularly falcon dance are a traditional feature of Mangolian wrestling, performed by wrestlers before the bout since the time of Genghis Khan. Centuries old Sumo is attached to Japanese reputation world over, much as Toshibas and Toyotas. It has crossed Japanese shores and there are many non Japanese Sumo wrestlers in Japanese National Championship who follows a strict punishing schedule since childhood. The word ‘Kushti’ and ‘Pehelwani’ are Persian words imported in India from Iran. Babur was a wrestler of quality and present politician Rajnath Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav had been a wrestler of talent. Even Hari Prasad Chaurasia, famous flutist has enthralled audience at Akhars at one time. It is rare of the rarest sport which has featured not only in all modern Olympics, but in Olympic of 776 BC as well. Ask any wrestler in the world, including those who have joined akhara barely a week before, about his biggest dream and the reply is bound to be Olympic Gold. Now compare this to Golf, tennis and the most popular game of the planet and you know that an Olympic is nowhere in the wish list.
In India, there has been tales of Gulam Mohammad, better known as Gama pehelwan who remained unbeaten for 50 years of his career, a record, may never be broken. How our K D Jadhav, first individual to win medal who even retained the hat for a long period, was welcomed by 40 kms long crowd, up to his village, when he returned from Helsinki in 1952 with bronze medal in his neck. But to be fair, for new generation of India, the interest in this art generated after the heroic act of Sushil Kumar at Beijing and it only has increased since then. At London, we had our Bheem- Balram and on a promising note, many are flexing muscles in India to shine at Rio and onwards.
The strong shout coming from the wrestling quarters is that why games like kayaking, canoeing, fencing, equestrian, modern pentathlon are still travelling whereas wrestling has been relegated to battle from waiting list to get a permanent berth in Olympic wagon. Switzerland’s Raphael Martinetti had been the president of FILA since 2002 but his moral resignation on the issue will not settle the storm. International Bodies have to come together to save this beautiful art, putting aside their on and off the field issues. Exclusion from Olympic will be an insult not only to spectators, players, viewers around the globe but to shiny human history and civilization as well.