Rahul Aware won the first gold medal for Indian in Wrestling at CWG 2018. (PTI)
Two years ago, ahead of the Rio Olympics, Rahul Aware defied the Wrestling Federation of India by choosing to skip a national camp organised in Georgia. His decision resulted in him being omitted from the team that eventually travelled to Brazil in 2016. Now, the 26-year-old is on the verge of missing out on the Asian Games.
On Saturday, Aware took another stand against the governing body by skipping the trials for the 57kg men’s freestyle trials for the event in Jakarta later in September. His move came after he was not granted the same exemption from giving the trials like Sushil Kumar, Vinish Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik had been given.
“I wrote a letter to the federation when I was told to give trials while the other wrestlers were directly added to the Asian Games team,” Aware says. “Like them, I too performed well at the Commonwealth Games and won a medal. Mine was actually the first wrestling gold for India at Gold Coast.”
In Australia, Aware stormed through the opposition to comfortably win gold. Following his win, Sushil, Vinish and Bajrang championed in their respective weight categories while Malik could only finish with a bronze. His result at the quadrennial event gave him confidence of getting the exemption, especially after an unnamed WFI official gave him assurances of it.
“Because of that, I didn’t bother reducing my weight in preparation for the trials, and I just kept on practicing,” he says. “So when they told me I had to give trials, I wouldn’t have made the weight anyway. It was too late.”
On June 4, Aware was informed that his trial was to be held in five days. At that time he had put on an additional five kgs more than the limit of his 57 kg category. “Every wrestler puts on weight during practice and drops before competition. But that takes at least 15 days and there’s a proper procedure for that,” explains Kaka Pawar, Aware’s coach.
“You can’t drop it so sharply because that can cause injuries. So even if Rahul decided to go for the trials, he would have been disqualified for being overweight. But these things always happen to players from Maharashtra. He shouldn’t have had to fight in trials because he had already beaten them all. Sab saajish hai.”
General Secretary from the WFI VN Prasood meanwhile asserts that the federation had granted the exceptions based on the individual wrestler’s achievements in the last three years and also the quality of the other Indian wrestlers in that weight category.
“We discussed the matter thoroughly with the national coaches and decided that these four were clearly the most talented in their division and had no competition,” he says. “In the men’s 57 kg, there were a few more wrestlers who were good like Sandeep Tomar (2016 Asian Championships gold medallist). Similarly, there was competition in the men’s 125 kg, which is why Sumit Malik (gold medallst at 2018 CWG) was made to give trials.”
In his trial, Malik comprehensively beat his opposition to secure a spot for himself in the Asian Games squad. Meanwhile in the men’s 57 kg tie, the trio of Tomar, Ravi Kumar and Utkarsh Kale ended the trials with a win and a loss each, and will now contest a re-trial on Wednesday. Out of options, Aware now hopes to get a chance to be a part of the second trial, or a fresh trial altogether when the federation will select a team to compete at the World Championships in September.
But Prasood insists the grappler should have been prepared for the initial round in the first place. “Until you’re told and given in writing that you have been exempt, you need to prepare to drop weight for the trials,” he adds. “We even allow a one kg grace, but he never showed up.”