With the Commonwealth Games just a week away, Indian Wrestling Federation President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is optimistic about the chances of Indian wrestlers, saying they can win all 12 gold medals on offer in the men’s categories and women. Luck, however, will play its part, Singh added.
In an interview with The Indian Express, the WFI chief discusses lessons learned from the Tokyo Olympics, the need to trust Indian coaches and whether he will be keen to take over the Indian Olympic Association, which is currently without a permanent president.
Do you think India can win all 12 Commonwealth Games gold medals?
In my opinion, our team is the best in the CWG. However, you cannot say that we will win all the gold medals because one day luck will also play a role. For example, what happened with Deepak Punia at the Tokyo Olympics (he lost the bronze medal fight in the final seconds)… Vinesh Phogat was one of the most secure medalists. But nothing is impossible because we have a strong contingent.
What is your overall assessment after the Tokyo Olympics?
I was a bit disappointed with the Tokyo results. I expected four medals, including one gold. We only managed to reach 50% of our goal. Everyone was happy with the two medals but not me. Vinesh not winning a medal was very unfortunate, and from Bajrang (Punia) we were expecting gold but he won a bronze medal. I was very optimistic that we will have a medal between Deepak and Sonam (Malik). I was sure of Ravi (Dahiya). I feel like Deepak was unlucky, but again, you can’t blame fate. It was also our fault. Deepak not winning the medal is upon us. If the foreign coach didn’t put pressure on him to train before the fight, the bronze was assured.
After the Olympics, we made some changes. I made tough decisions and was harshly criticized for it.
The first big decision I made right after the Tokyo Games was that we would have trials for the Olympics. We adopted the rule at our general meeting. If you’ve won a quota, that doesn’t mean you’re going to the Olympics.
The World Wrestling Championships will take place in September. When will the trials take place?
We will announce the date after the CWG. Wrestlers will need time to recover.
Is there a plan to prepare wrestlers at junior level as well, particularly Greco-Roman?
At the Asian Cadet and World Cadet Championships, we finished third in Greco-Roman. We never did well in style because it wasn’t in school games or college games. In India, those who were unable to compete in the freestyle indulged in the Greco-Roman. Now Greco-Roman is in school games, but the hardest part was getting it into college games. It was a tiring process; it took me two years to do it. You will see positive results in Greco-Roman. He is improving.
Why are you so rigid about Indian coaches and against foreign coaches?
We haven’t had any foreign coaches for so many months now. We won medals at the Worlds in men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling and even in Greco-Roman wrestling. Foreign coaches do not have the magic wand. Who helped Sushil, Yogeshwar and Ravi win medals? All the coaches were Indian. We gave Bajrang a special trainer, and he came back with a bronze medal. I am rigid about the Indian coaches because they keep them focused. Our athletes need a tutor. I’m not totally against foreign coaches, but I don’t want them there. I’m fine with the training and all, but I don’t want them on the spot. If our wrestler wants them, then only that’s fine.
What’s your problem with private bodies, like OGQ and JSW getting into the sport?
This matter is settled now. We had some conditions. First, the federation doesn’t need a single penny from them, be it JSW or OGQ. Second, the federation and the SAI will decide when and where the wrestler will train and who their training partners will be, not them. Third, until now they have only focused on those who are in contention for a medal; those who have not won medals will be left at the airport. But now we’ve told them not to just deal with our cream wrestlers. We will give them the list based on performance.
From table tennis to football and hockey, the courts are involved in the operation of sports bodies. What is your opinion on this, and if you had the chance, would you run for the position of head of the IOA?
There is a sports code for all federations. I have a question: the committee of administrators has become the norm these days in all federations, but they have never lifted a finger at the WFI, why? The reason is simple: we followed government guidelines. It is the government that takes care of our athletes, they give us the funds and we have to follow the guidelines provided by the government. There was a problem in all these federations; they weren’t even conducting the elections on time.
To answer your last part of the question, no, I don’t want to become the head of the IOA. Mai jahaan hun khush hun. kyunki mai sambhal nahi pauga. Mere bas ka nahi hai (I’m happy where I am. I won’t be able to take on the extra responsibility).