5 - The strange case of Sushil v Narsingh


From a champion vs contender face-off to the tragic meltdown of a young man's dream. In it and around it, the smell of conspiracy, the stumble of administration and a finale from the depths of hell.

The narrative was simple to start with: with his 74kg class bronze at the 2015 Las Vegas world championships Narsingh Yadav had earned an Olympic quota in the weight category and was in line for Rio. India's greatest Olympian, double-medallist Sushil Kumar, having switched from the scrapped 66kg in London to the 74kg, wanted another shot at the Olympics. Only one man could go. Sushil's loyalists called for a trial between the two men and Narsingh's faithful said that according to convention, the man who won the quota owned the ticket.

Sushil took the matter to the Delhi high court, where he was told it needed to be settled by wrestling officialdom. A month after it looked like Narsingh had sealed his spot to Rio, he tested positive for anabolic steroid metadienone. He cried conspiracy, saying his food and drink had been deliberately contaminated and he had been framed by his enemies. Another set of legal wrangles were to follow; five days before the Games opened, the National Anti Doping Agency cleared Narsingh following an appeal and said he had been a victim of "sabotage". This was challenged by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS). Two days before his bout in Rio, after Narsingh had been through the mandatory weigh-in, came the unkindest cut. WADA's appeal at CAS was successful, Narsingh was banned from all forms of official wrestling for four years.

He was to return home broken, excommunicated from his sport for four years and rendered insignificant in the pages of the country's athletic history. Sushil will always have his Olympic medals and Narsingh his bitter memories. Their clash at another level became a clear-cut case of the loopholes that pervade Indian sport: the failure of clear-sighted official policy and a ham-handed approach to anti-doping measures as well as dope control. Like it does far too often, chaos theory ruled.