It can be said with some amount of pride laced with a lot of bitterness that India has reached a stage in sport where two worthy contenders vie for a single spot to the Olympics. This increased depth and internal competition should make Indian fans happy. But that’s where the good news ends. As the Narsingh Yadav-Sushil Kumar rivalry has proven, this sporting progress can take an ugly turn. Narsingh has filed a criminal complaint with police alleging sabotage after he failed a drug test, and it could finish in a summer full of debates looking ridiculous as neither heads to Rio.
At Sports Authority of India campuses across India, and other sports hostels, this can trigger mass paranoia as competitors start coveting the same spots. It’s easy to mistrust, and it will be a colossal waste of energy on the part of athletes to constantly look over their shoulder hoping rivals are not lacing their food and water. India’s domestic selection structures are so pitifully lacking in transparency — remember this started with Sushil being denied a trial — that it will add to the insecurity of athletes and hardly aid performance against international rivals, who ought to be the real puzzles. Sushil-Narsingh, Saina-Sindhu, Vikas-Vijender ought to have heralded the emergence of an era where India celebrated its depth in every discipline, cheered domestic rivalries which can only raise standards. Sport needs rivalries, though India failed at managing its first sighting of a genuinely world-class rivalry. What this sordid episode has done is it made India’s sporting system look selfish and pathetic with no regard for what’s truly good for the nation.
It further complicates matters for dope policing authorities who are already struggling to bring cheats to the book, if everyone starts crying conspiracy. This story should have been about how the great Narsingh pehlwaan’s dhaak daav outmanoeuvred the great Sushil pehlwaan’s dhobi-pachchad in trials, and then the Olympics. Instead, no Indian might see either skill-set on the mat.