Addressing the long-standing controversy surrounding the selection trials, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat finally broke their silence and emphasised that they have no intentions of evading the trials. The selection process had been a subject of heated debate, particularly after the IOA ad-hoc committee granted direct berths for the Asian Games to Punia and Phogat, both accomplished world championship medallists. This decision sparked strong disagreements within the wrestling community.
Never asked for an exemption just time
Challenging the committee's decision, junior world champion Antim Panghal and U23 Asian medallist Sujeet Kalkal took their case to the Delhi High Court through a petition, seeking a reconsideration of the selection. However, despite their efforts, the court dismissed their plea, upholding the original decision. As a result, Antim Panghal, who emerged victorious in the 53kg trials, will be listed as a standby participant for the Asian Games.
"We were waiting for the court order to come out and speak. We never wanted any exemption from trials. All we said was that we needed a month's practice to comeback. Some people are doing politics in our name. They never came and supported our cause when the entire nation was with us but now, they are instigating and dividing the wrestling fraternity," said Tokyo Olympics medallist Punia during the Facebook live.
"We are not running the sports ministry and ad-hoc committee. We were fighting for everyone, sitting there on the road in Jantar Mantar," he said.
No one spoke earlier hen Brij Bhushan changed the rules of trials
Phogat, whom Antim has challenged, made it clear that they have never shied away from trials throughout their entire career.
"We have no issues in giving trials. Take trials and whoever wins will go. We have been saying this," said Vinesh. "I am happy that the junior girls are fighting for themselves, at least they have the guts to talk now. Earlier, nobody would come out and talk when Brij Bhushan changed the rules of trials.
"She is right in saying 'haq milna chahiye (I must get my right).' She is right, fight for your right but do not portray us in wrong manner. I have given my life to the sport, got inspired by Sushil Pehelwan and his Olympic medals. I wanted to make my contribution so that girls can come out and do wrestling."
Denial against any wrongdoing
In response to Antim's accusation of feeling cheated during the Commonwealth Games trials, where she lost to Phogat in a close match with a score of 3-3, Phogat strongly defended herself. She asserted, "If Brij Bhushan cheated you, it's not my fault.
Despite male wrestlers who won gold in CWG being granted exemptions, we were not given the same privilege by Brij Bhushan. Within a mere 10 days, we had to appear in competitions, including the world championships. Nevertheless, I participated in the trials, emerged victorious, and subsequently won a medal at the World Championships. So, it's unfair to claim that I skipped trials."
Phogat's response was filled with determination and passion, as she adamantly denied any wrongdoing and emphasised her commitment to participating in the trials despite facing challenging circumstances.
"We were fighting for everyone. During the protest, our families were afraid that anything can happen to us. Leave alone wrestling, we put our lives at stake but how many of these people who are talking now came forward to support," she said.