The Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav debate has been raging on for sometime as to which of these wrestlers should be representing India at Rio Olympics. While each side has their own merit, what has come to the fore is the term Olympic Quota Place.
We are in Olympic Year – the once in four years sporting extravaganza which is considered the pinnacle of sports. And for good reason. Because forget winning, even getting a chance to participate is not easy to come. Ever since its start, the Olympics became bigger and bigger. So big that it was almost impossible for any one city to host them without going bankrupt (like Montreal in 1976). To limit the size and ensure timely completion, caps on number of sports and the participants in each event were introduced.
With the cap in participation, qualification systems came into place. The qualification system varies from sport to sport, with the respective Governing body deciding the number of quota places and their distribution
- Some spots are reserved for the host nation.
- Places are distributed to ensure that all continents are represented.
- Some individual sports go directly by the rankings (like Tennis, Badminton, Golf etc.), with upper limits set on each nation’s entries.
- Some sports have continental and world qualification events (e.g. Hockey, Boxing Wretling etc). Sometime world championships and continental championships double up as qualifiers for Olympics with specific number of places allocated in each event.
- Others have set qualification criterion (e.g. Athletics, Swimming). All athletes who meet them can participate in the event, subject to being nominated by their respective National Olympic Committee (NOC).
- Some wild cards are also awarded.
In certain sports (like Shooting, Wrestling, Boxing, Archery etc), Quotas are awarded in each event in the various qualifying events. The individual athlete participates in the qualifier and earns the quota. However the quota is not awarded to the athlete but the NOC which they represent. The NOC has every right to
- nominate the same athlete (the usual case), Or
- nominate a different athlete, whom they believe has a better chance (rare but not uncommon with form being the criterion), Or
- exchange the quota in one event with another within the same sport (e.g. India exchanged the Quota place earned by Sanjeev Rajput in 50m air rifle 3 positions for a Quota place in Trap shooting)
- surrender the quota (not send anyone e.g. South Africa’ Hockey teams are not being sent in spite of qualifying for the main rounds).
In many cases, once an NOC has secured a Quota in a particular event, it doesn’t participate in subsequent qualifiers for the same event.
Now coming back to the Narsingh-Sushil debate. In the 74 KG freestyle wrestling event, Narsingh represented India in Sushil’s absence (through injury) in the 2015 World Championships. He won a bronze medal and the Olympic quota place. Earlier Sushil had won the Gold in 2014 Commonwealth Games in the same category. Sushil has also been a two-time Olympic medallist (albeit in a different weight category). Now, Narsingh wants to be India’s nominee for the Olympics (after all, he earned the Quota place), while Sushil wants a selection trial (that is the only way for him). While the wrestling federation fidgets and takes a decision, the issue has brewed over with matter having reached the courts now.
In my opinion, Narsingh Yadav should be the one representing India at Rio. After all he has earned the quota, whereas Sushil Kumar is coming back from injury and hasn’t participated in any competitive action in more than a year. Probably a trial would have been a fair way to go about, but it is too late in the day now for that circumstance.