The Wrestling Federation of India has imposed a temporary ban on Vinesh Phogat, levelling three ‘charges’ on the 53-kg freestyle grappler, giving her till the end of this week to respond with her defence.
“The first charge is that she refused to stay with the Indian team (during the Tokyo Olympics). The second charge was that she refused to train with the Indian team,” WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh told The Indian Express. “Another charge against her is that the Indian Olympic Association singlet, which is approved, was not worn by her. She instead wore her sponsor Nike’s singlet. She was not supposed to wear that.”
When asked if this was the first time the federation has had an issue with Vinesh, Singh conceded that earlier transgressions were overlooked due to the stature of the athlete.
“She can’t compete in any national or other domestic event until she files a reply and WFI takes a final decision,” a WFI source told PTI.
Vinesh was in fact with the Indian wrestling contingent in Bulgaria, Poland and Estonia towards the end of her training cycle. She then moved to Hungary with her coach Woller Akos for 15 days on the final leg of her training before reaching Tokyo.
This was done to avoid the seven days of daily Covid-19 tests that Indian athletes were subjected to before being allowed to leave for Tokyo. The Sports Authority of India encouraged foreign-based athletes to fly to Tokyo directly from wherever they were training. Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu was another athlete who flew from the United States directly to Tokyo.
Other side of story
While Vinesh wasn’t staying with the Indian team in Tokyo, she was present in the Games Village and sticking to the schedule provided to her. There is no rule that states that she needed to train with her teammates. But her wearing a Nike singlet, and not the official Olympics-approved singlet, was a breach of contract.
On the other hand, only one physiotherapist was provided by the federation to the men’s and women’s teams in Tokyo. Vinesh’s request for Poornima R Ngomdir, her regular physio, was rejected. It was a decision that prompted the wrestler to publicly complain on social media.
“Is it a crime to ask for one physiotherapist for four women wrestlers when there are instances of one athlete having multiple coaches/staff? Where is the balance?” posted Phogat on July 22, a day before the inauguration of the Games. A physio is all-important for recovery in wrestling after matches and draining weight-cuts that are part and parcel of the sport. Her request for a physio was rejected when the WFI finalised the list of support staff.
Vinesh crashed out in the quarterfinals of the Olympics to Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus by ‘fall’. A few months prior to this defeat, the Indian had beaten the same opponent by ‘fall’. This result was part of a run when Vinesh won multiple tournaments in 2021 and had earned herself the top seeding in the 53-kg wrestling category for the Olympics. She won bronze at the 2019 World Championships, gold at the 2018 Asian Games and is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion