Sushil Kumar on the run, a legacy in peril
Delhi police on the trail of two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar is one of the most astonishing events in Indian sports history. The murder case in which the decorated wrestler’s name appeared is damaging, as is the match-fixing scandal that rocked Indian cricket more than two decades ago.
The impact is immense as the central figure is the only one in the country, which has not produced too many individual Olympic medalists, to have won two medals in the quadrennial event and a world title.
In happier times, it took witnessing Sushil’s fame and following the fans in person to understand the impact he was having on the Indian sports scene and beyond. While his bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which came alongside shooter Abhinav Bindra’s historic gold and boxer Vijender Singh’s bronze medal, came as a surprise to many, his medal of silver at the London 2012 Olympics was a feat of an accomplished artist. This raised Sushil, who rose from his humble family background in the village of Baprola in Delhi, to a celebrity.
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Everywhere Sushil has gone as a guest following his success in London, crowds scrambled to get a glimpse of the man in the carpet. Stories abound of fans offering large boxes of ghee and bags of almonds as gifts to the champion as a sign of love and respect.
Amid it all, Sushil’s well-mannered and down-to-earth personality has remained unchanged. He continued to be available for a phone call. He remained so until the time of his disappearance following the murder of 23-year-old wrestler Sagar inside the campus of the vast Chhatrasal Stadium on the night of May 4 and 5. in the footsteps of his mentor and stepfather, wrestler Satpal.
People who have known Sushil for a long time are amazed that he finds himself involved in a murder case. While the police were looking for him, he knocked on the doors of the court to request interim release, which was refused. Incidentally, the police also announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for information about Sushil. All these developments have only tarnished its image.
What happened inside Chhatrasal Stadium on that fateful night, how Sagar was killed, and whether Sushhe played a role there are being investigated by the police. Sushil was quoted as saying the incident was outside work. Relatives of Sushil claim that this is a conspiracy against him. The sporting model for millions is now in a corner where its reputation is on the line, outside of the legal process it will have to face.
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Reports suggest Sushil may have had ties to a criminal gang due to business interests. It’s up to the police to establish the truth, but why would an icon of Sushil’s stature be associated with a criminal gang? Some say the alleged transgression could be the result of bad company, and Sushil, who meets hundreds of people, should have known better.
When you are someone people admire, you are supposed to behave in an ideal way. Sushil, however, did not do this, neither in this case nor when questions were raised about the functioning of the Indian School Games Federation (SGFI), another legacy he inherited from Satpal. As president, he remained silent.
Before that, with age catching up and young competitors throwing up challenges, Sushil couldn’t stay away from controversies. The wrestler’s bitter feud with Narsingh Yadav for the 74kg spot at the Rio 2016 Olympics, which ended with Narsingh testing positive for a banned substance and claiming it was sabotage, in is a good example. Claims that his supporters beat wrestler Parveen Rana’s brother during the 2018 Commonwealth Games trials in Delhi also saw his reputation suffer. Sushil argued that he had no role in any of this.
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The law will decide whether or not Sushil, 37, is guilty in the murder case of the young wrestler, but by choosing to be on the run, one of India’s greatest Olympians does not appear to have chosen the right one way.
Many aspiring wrestlers who idolize Sushil will wish he came out of this problem unscathed, but they need to take a life lesson from this episode. They need to protect themselves and the old sport they play from controversies that can ruin lives and careers.