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Sushil Kumar - 4 controversies that harmed his image and career

Sushil Kumar [Extreme Left].
Sushil Kumar [Extreme Left].
Animesh Pandey
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What a fall from grace it has been for Sushil Kumar Solanki. The Haryanvi grappler from Baprola [in West Delhi] is currently behind bars for the alleged murder of a junior wrestler, Sagar Dhankad.

Delhi Police are investigating the brawl that took Sagar's life on 4 May and the celebrated wrestler is one of the prime suspects in the case. Maybe Sushil Kumar was not the 'son of the soil' as we all perceived him to be.

Born to poor but determined parents, Sushil Kumar gave it his all to make his name in wrestling.

He crashed out on his debut at the Athens Olympics in 2004, but came back heroically to shock one and all by winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Sushil Kumar's rise had only begun. He created history at the 2010 World Championships where he won the first ever gold medal for India in the competition. He also became the first Indian to win consecutive medals at the Olympics. He added a silver medal at London 2012 to his Beijing bronze, despite fighting stomach cramps at the event.

Sushil Kumar was once the apple of the nation's eye and the face of Indian wrestling. Even after a World Championship gold and back-to-back Olympic medals to his credit, Sushil Kumar had the potential to achieve much more. However, bad luck and poor decisions have seemingly destroyed his career.

While the trials controversy before the Rio Olympics robbed him of popular support, the current controversy over Sagar Dhankad's murder has meant his career is all but over.

Here are some of the controversies that destroyed both Sushil Kumar's image and his career for once and for all.

Sushil Kumar - 5 career-ruining controversies

1. Sushil Kumar's contentious semi-final win at the London Olympics

London Olympics - Where it all began for Sushil Kumar
London Olympics - Where it all began for Sushil Kumar

Sushil cruised to the finals of the London Olympics with ease. He displayed dazzling wrestling skills in the semifinal as he crushed Akzhurek Tantarov of Kazakhstan, pummeling him 2-1. What few people focus on though is the fact that Akzhurek accused Sushil of foul play, saying the Indian had bitten him beneath his ear.

After a historic victory at the 2010 World Championships, Sushil Kumar was India's best bet for an Olympic medal. He led the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and was all set to fulfill India's expectations with another medal.

Sushil did not disappoint either. In his very opening match, he faced Ramzan Sahin of Turkey, who was the reigning Olympic champion of the 66kg category in which Sushil had won a bronze before.

Sushil overcame Ramzan, defeating him 2-1 in his opening bout after suffering an early setback. Likewise, Sushil defeated his quarterfinal opponent from Uzbekistan with ease before meeting Azhurek.

Akzhurek was brought hurtling down by an impressive move by Sushil Kumar. However, a close grapple between the two left the Kazakh wrestler bleeding, and he accused Sushil Kumar of biting off his ear lobe. The authorities turned a deaf ear to his allegations, but this was probably a signal that things were not as bright as it seemed with Sushil.

2. Narsingh Pancham Yadav's doping fiasco

Narsingh Pancham Yadav - The man who changed it all for Sushil Kumar
Narsingh Pancham Yadav - The man who changed it all for Sushil Kumar

By the time the Rio Olympics had come around, a lot had changed in amateur wrestling. A few categories had been abolished which included Sushil Kumar's 66 kg. Also, the the bouts were reduced to two rounds of three minutes each, instead of the previous three rounds.

Sushil now had two options - either compete in the 65 kg category, which meant grappling with another stalwart and his best friend Yogeshwar Dutt who had won bronze at the London Olympics, or go up to 74 kg.

Sushil opted for the second option for two reasons. One, he could then focus on his body building, and two, his opponent in that category was Narsingh Pancham Yadav who seemed an easier adversary to him.

But Narsingh was not a pushover. He had clinched a bronze medal at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 as well as World Championships in 2015, the latter of which saw him employ a spectacular Meanwhile, Sushil missed the Olympic qualifying tournament and put in an unusual request by demanding a one-on-one trial against Narsingh.

This was rare but not unheard of. Pappu Yadav had made the cut for the Atlanta Olympics in the Greco-Roman category through a trial.

However, the Wrestling Federation of India did not acceede to his demand and Narsingh was selected to go to the Rio Olympics to compete in the 74 kg category.

However, things took a dark turn when it was found that Narsingh had taken substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Narsingh vehemently denied it.

He cried sabotage, saying his food and water had been spiked, with Sushil the obvious suspect. After a lot of twists and turns, Narsingh was handed a four-year ban.

3. Sushil Kumar's tryst with hooliganism

Parveen Rana - Another 'victim' of wrestling politics
Parveen Rana - Another 'victim' of wrestling politics

Whether or not Sushil sabotaged Narsingh Pancham Yadav's career is a matter of dispute. However, there have been previous accusations of brawling against Sushil before the current controversy.

Take for example the case of Parveen Rana. A national champion in the 74 kg category, Parveen Rana challenged Sushil for the trials before the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and Sushil accepted. Despite winning the bout, Sushil was accused of attacking Parveen.

Parveen alleged foul play during the trials, which were denied by the Wrestling Federation of India. He alleged that Sushil instigated his followers to attack him and maul him.

4. Sagar Dhankad's death: The final straw

Sagar Dhankad murder - The last straw
Sagar Dhankad murder - The last straw

4 May 2021 will forever be labeled a Black Day in Indian sports. A few hooligans stormed the Chhatrasal Stadium on that night, and got into a brawl with some wrestlers. The violent brawl left junior wrestler Sagar Rana dead and many others injured.

Startling details about Sushil Kumar's involvement in the murder and other murky happenings quickly emerged. Sushil Kumar absconded for more than a fortnight before finally being arrested by Delhi Police on 22 May. Sushil was arrested by a team at Delhi Police's Special Cell near Mundka along with one of his associates.

This may have just opened the Pandora's Box. According to a report on Dainik Jagran, Sushil Kumar was involved with various gangsters, some of whom even accompanied him in his brawl with Sagar Dhankad on May 4.

To quote a report from Dainik Jagran, Sushil officiated as a referee for the 'gangsters', and under his supervision, Chhatrasal Stadium had become a haven for gangsters and hooligans.

Edited by S Chowdhury
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