Today News Online Service
New Delhi, May 24
New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium remains central to champion wrestler Sushil Kumar’s dizzying rise — and disgraceful fall. Years of penance at the stadium saw him win back-to-back medals at the Olympic Games and the biggest prize in between, the 2010 World Championship gold.
In 2012, as the country was celebrating Sushil’s silver medal at the London Olympics, which made him the first Indian to win a medal in two consecutive Games in an individual sport, the countdown began in all earnest for a steep decline into infamy, culminating in his arrest five days before his 38th birthday.
Taste of power
Before the murder case in which Sushil was arrested, there were regular murmurs that the great wrestler had strayed from the straight and narrow path.
“There were rumours that Sushil Pehelwan was friends with the toll plaza mafia and knew some criminals. But we never thought a day would come when we’d see him being paraded like a criminal,” said a wrestler from the Chhatrasal Stadium, pleading anonymity.
Others say he liked the taste of power. A London Olympic Games participant disclosed that Sushil once walked into a meeting with a loaded pistol. “We were all there to talk about how to establish a training programme for our department and suddenly he showed me his pistol. It was unnerving,” the Olympian told this correspondent.
Apart from handling his day-to-day duties as an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) on deputation to the Delhi Government, Sushil would meet general people from his village. At one such meeting in January this year, sources say Sushil was approached by a family to save their daughter from a gangster’s clutches — much as mob boss might be approached by commoners for help. “I don’t want to but these people come to me for help. How can I not help?” he had said then.
The first time Sushil’s name was dragged in police business was in December 2017, when a routine selection trial for a place on the Commonwealth Games team against Parveen Rana descended into a mass brawl between their supporters at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Parveen’s brother Navin lodged an FIR after they were roughed up by Sushil’s supporters.
After his 2012 success, Sushil started to miss major tournaments, including the 2014 Asian Games, and had plans to move into sports administration. Soon he took over the reins of the Chhatrasal Stadium from his guru and now father-in-law, ‘Mahabali’ Satpal Singh, as the stadium’s administrator in his capacity as an OSD with the Delhi Government. Shortly after, he replaced Satpal as the School Games Federation of India (SGFI) president as well.
Those who knew him well say his attitude changed. Those who were once close to him began to leave. The first was his oldest and closest friend, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. The duo had a public falling out in the 2016 when Yogeshwar urged Wrestling Federation of India not to heed Sushil’s request for a trial before the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Chhatrasal powerplay was the main reason for this falling out. Before the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Amit Dhankar approached the courts to force a trial in the 65kg category, Yogeshwar’s weight class. While the coaches remained neutral, it irked Yogeshwar as no one spoke in his favour. In 2015, Bajrang Punia, India’s top medal hope at the Tokyo Olympics, left the famed akhada after a similar falling out with Sushil.
The latest in the line of champion wrestlers to cut ties with the akhada is Deepak Punia, who will represent India in the 86kg weight category in Tokyo. Deepak left the stadium with his coach Virender, who was miffed with the fact that Sushil did not help him stave off his transfer orders. He did participate in the 2018 Asian Games, losing in the first round, but it was clear that his wrestling was no more his focus.
The dalliance with the bad crowd caught up with him on May 4 when Sagar Dhankar and his friends got involved in a physical fight with Sushil and his people at Chhatrasal Stadium. With Dhankar’s death and Sushil becoming an absconder, died a rare legacy which many would kill to preserve.