Police issue alert for Sushil Kumar, Chhatrasal stadium misses its 'guardian'

Sushil Kumar. ESPN

Six days after a 23-year-old former junior national champion wrestler Sagar Rana was beaten to death in a brawl at New Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium, the Delhi Police has issued a Look-out-Circular (LoC) against the two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar.

An LoC is a circular letter used by authorities to check whether a travelling person is wanted by the police. It is used at immigration checks at international borders like airports or seaports and is meant to prevent absconding criminals from crossing borders.

Following the incident on the night of May 4 that led to the death of Rana and injuries to two others, a FIR of murder, abduction and criminal conspiracy was registered against Sushil. According to a report in the Indian Express, the Police have stated that the victims of the assault had made allegations against Kumar. "We are conducting raids to nab Sushil Kumar," Additional DCP (North-West district) Dr Guriqbal Singh Sidhu told the Indian Express.

Even as he evades the police, the absence of India's most decorated Olympian has left Chhatrasal stadium in a state of turmoil.

"Right now no one really knows how to react. It is as if Chhatrasal Stadium is without its guardian," said a coach who didn't wish to be named.

Sushil had been synonymous with the stadium ever since he first started training here as a 14-year-old. He'd won both his Olympic medals while training here, and had proceeded to take up an administrative position even as his career wound down.

Sushil's successes (two Olympic medals and a world title) at a time when international achievements were few and far between triggered a revolution in the sport. His Olympic bronze -- the first by an Indian wrestler in 56 years -- gave Indian wrestling its first icon, and paved the way for Yogeshwar Dutt, Geeta and Babita Phogat, their cousin Vinesh, Rio bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and World medallists Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia.

It was no surprise that Sushil had enjoyed a larger than life reputation at the Chhatrasal Stadium -- considered the breeding ground for India's best men's freestyle wrestlers. His achievements had inspired many of the wrestlers training there to begin their own careers.

As his career wound down and he was taken over by official duties, Sushil would continue to be a fixture at the stadium. "He'd never stopped training. He would take part in an hour and a half practice sessions twice a day for three days every week. Even after that he'd often come to the practice hall and coach other wrestlers," said a member of the coaching staff at Chhatrasal.

Once they would willingly speak in awed voices about his contribution to the sport and to their own careers. After the incident on Thursday night though, most have clammed up, preferring to see which way the chips fall eventually. "What can I speak on this? Please ask another question," said one wrestler - one of four (all with roots in Chhatrasal incidentally) who had qualified for the Olympics.

The Wrestling Federation of India for its part has admitted that the reputation of the sport built over the years by performances, many of them by Sushil himself, has come undone. "I must say that the image of Indian wrestling has got hurt badly by this. The sport has struggled hard in earning a reputation because for long wrestlers were known only as a bunch of goons," WFI secretary Vinod Tomar told PTI.

Sumit Malik and Ravi Dahiya -- the two Olympic qualifiers who continue to train in the Stadium - have managed to avoid much of the turmoil so far. They have been training and competing in Bulgaria over the past couple of weeks and will return to India on Tuesday. At this point, the priority for coaches is that with a little over two months to go to the Olympics, Ravi and Sumits' training isn't affected. "The regular members of Chhatrasal Stadium are still continuing to train under a couple of coaches. Right now no outsiders are being permitted inside," says the coach.

But while they attempt to focus on their sport, insiders in Chhatrasal stadium know how hard it will be to come to grips with the sudden absence of Sushil.