The Indian Olympic Association's (IOA) lethargic approach towards the elections of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) may see the latter banned by the world body - United World Wrestling (UWW).
The IOA, on April 27, had announced the formation of a three-member ad-hoc committee to take over the functioning of the WFI and conduct its elections. Two members were named - Bhupendra Bajwa [president of the Wushu Association of India] and Suma Shirur [national shooting coach] - while the third, a retired high-court judge, was to be appointed later.
This two-member panel took charge on May 4 and was given a 45-day deadline to conduct the elections. However, with just 11 days to go until that deadline expires (June 17), there's no sign of the third member and that has led to the issue at hand: the elections cannot be held without a retired high court judge to begin the proceedings.
This is of great significance because on May 30, UWW had put out a statement in response to the detention of the protesting wrestlers, and had stated in it that the WFI would be suspended if elections were not held within the stipulated time frame.
Wrestling's world governing body has issued its first statement about the protests by the Indian wrestlers. pic.twitter.com/7mJxWoomQv
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) May 30, 2023
Why, then, has the third member not been appointed yet? To ensure junior wrestlers don't miss out on a chance to represent the nation, according to IOA president PT Usha.
"For betterment of kids we prioritised the trials rather than elections of WFI. If we concentrate on elections, the trials will be compromised. We don't want to sacrifice betterment of our kids and we want they should get a fair opportunity to represent on international podium," Usha was quoted as saying by PTI on Tuesday at the SAI centre in New Delhi.
On Monday, the two-member ad-hoc panel began selections for the U-15 and U-20 athletes for the upcoming Asian Championship. "We've conducted the trials successfully, but we can do nothing regarding the elections until the third member is appointed," said an official who is advising the ad-hoc committee.
The official added that the IOA is likely to name the third member only after a verdict is reached in court regarding the complaints of sexual abuse made against erstwhile WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Seven women wrestlers, including a minor, have filed police complaints against Singh on charges of molestation and sexual misconduct.
What happens if the 45-day deadline is not met?
There's a strong chance that the WFI will be suspended by the UWW. Here's what the global body said last week: "The 45-day deadline that was initially set to hold this elective assembly shall be respected. Failing to do so may lead UWW to suspend the federation, thereby forcing the athletes to compete under a neutral flag."
In this scenario, if they win an Olympic quota under a neutral flag, they would still compete under a neutral flag and not represent India at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
There is also a slim chance that the IOA requests UWW for an extension and is granted one. However, there are no clear grounds to seek an extension considering the elections are long overdue.
Asian Games trials from June 22-25
ESPN understands that the selection trials for the men's and women's teams for this year's Asian Games will be held in New Delhi from June 22-25.
A source in the know said the protesting wrestlers - Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik - will also be allowed to compete in the trials, should they want to.
It has been learnt that the wrestlers had enquired whether the trials could be postponed, but have not made a formal request yet. The wrestlers have not had proper training since they began their second round of protests at Jantar Mantar on April 23.
None of the protesting wrestlers have competed in any international events in 2023 and have had barely any time on the mat in a year that is packed with the Asian Games and World Championships [Olympic quotas on offer at the Worlds].