Minutes into the primary day of the ladies’s wrestling nationwide championships at a college on the outskirts of Agra, the place over 200 contestants jostled with spectators to look at the motion, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the 64-year-old president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), introduced a money prize.
Sitting on a cushioned couch on a podium overlooking two mats, Singh declared: “Koi pehelwan agar kursi par khada ho, toh use dhakka maar-kar gira do aur mere paas se 500 rupay le jaiye (Should you discover any wrestler standing on a chair, then topple her with a push and take Rs 500 from me).”
On cue, the group laughed. Nevertheless it was a kind of moments when nobody was fairly positive if Singh — a six-time BJP MP from Kaiserganj in UP, who has a number of prison circumstances in opposition to him, and WFI chief for 9 years — was being sarcastic or critical. Order prevailed quickly.
It was trademark Singh, the hands-on strongman-administrator who has had the final phrase in something wrestling in India for near a decade now. “These are all sturdy women and men. To regulate them, you want somebody stronger. Is there anybody stronger right here than me?” he asks.
In an period when sports activities tournaments have been changed into an occasion administration trade, wrestling stays a throwback to the previous instances.
The occasion that featured Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and lots of in competition for the Tokyo Video games later this yr had a “dangal” really feel to it. Aside from medals and the perk of a potential Olympic berth, the members additionally fought to take dwelling a buffalo, named Ganga, value Rs 1.5 lakh. Nevertheless, even because the curtains had been drawn, Ganga was seen tethered on the venue. Officers say the jury was nonetheless out, the worthy wrestler to earn the prize hadn’t but been picked.
A standard sight at any such event in India, nationwide or worldwide, senior or junior, is of Singh sitting on a podium with a mic in his hand. He’ll shout out directions for referees and wrestlers, cease and begin a bout as he deems match, will type ad-hoc legal guidelines that defy the rulebook.
“That is how I’ve managed crowds of 15,000-20,000 individuals at my political occasions,” says Singh. “I’m utilizing the identical fashion right here… I perceive that as WFI president, I shouldn’t cheer for one pehelwan or say issues out loud, however what can I do, typically I get carried away.”
Final week, throughout the males’s nationwide championships in Noida, Singh suspended a Railways coach for being too animated on the sidelines. Then, he demanded that the judges dock some extent from a Delhi wrestler’s rating as his supporters entered the sector of play. For nearly 10 minutes, the judges argued there was no provision to take such a call. “Hum keh rahe hai na, kar dijiye (I’m saying this, please do it),” Singh advised them earlier than ultimately relenting.
“It’s very powerful to handle his expectations, particularly in relation to technical elements of a bout,” says a referee. “However he additionally understands the game, so as soon as he calms down, he lets us cope with the state of affairs.”
On uncommon events the place he isn’t current bodily at an occasion, Singh displays the proceedings just about. “In March 2020, we had our nationwide championships in Himachal Pradesh and I couldn’t go there. So we put in cameras all over the place so I might see all the things from my home in New Delhi,” says Singh.
In Agra, he threatened to deflate the tyres of those that didn’t comply with parking guidelines, continued to inform the referees when to award or dock some extent, vetoed video referrals and gave directions to the UP police on crowd administration — all with a mic in his hand and from the rostrum.
The gamers are conscious of Singh’s affect. Final weekend, when dope-tainted wrestler Narsingh Yadav — who Singh adjudged to be harmless after he failed a medicine check in 2016 — misplaced his bout in controversial circumstances, he made an enchantment to not the judges however on to Singh. It was solely after Singh decided that Yadav had no case was the matter closed.
One other acquainted sight at these nationals is of members looking for Singh’s blessings, even earlier than going to oldsters or coaches, after profitable a medal. “It’s turn into a convention over time,” says a wrestler. “Samajh lijiye samman se hello hai (You possibly can perceive that it’s only out of respect).”
Says WFI vice-president Vinod Tomar: “Wrestlers are largely disciplined however nonetheless, you want a powerful man to manage all these sturdy males.” Singh smirks: “Aur humse zyada shaktishali aur koi hai kya (And is there anybody else stronger than me?)”