Wrestling set for overhaul with national rankings, int'l events and central contracts
The Wrestling Federation of India is set to introduce a national rankings system next year, host major international tournaments and identify 24 Olympic medal prospects for special assistance from a pool of 150, who will be offered central contracts.
"About 150 wrestlers will be given contracts but there will be 24, who will not only get contracts but also assistance through a separate initiative for their preparations for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris," a source in the WFI said.
The finer details of the planned central contracts are not yet officially known but the WFI is set to become only the second national sports body after the BCCI to offer such financial security to its athletes.
In fact, the WFI will be the only National Sports Federation, recognised by the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Ministry, to hand out contracts to junior and sub-junior grapplers as well.
"We will also introduce national rankings in different categories. We were perhaps the only major NSF to not have the ranking. The tennis federation, badminton federation, all have it. So, we felt the need to introduce it from 2019. It will help the athletes measure their standings," the source said.
Major international tournaments, sanctioned by the world governing body UWW, will also be held in the country in 2019 and broadcast live to reach out to more audiences. India last year hosted the Asian Championships.
"There are two broadcasters in contention. I can't name them as of now but we need to bring major tournaments where Indian grapplers are rubbing shoulders with world's best, to the drawing rooms of the people. We need to change the way Indian wrestling is perceived," said the source.
The WFI, in August this year, struck a three-year deal with TATA Motors as its sponsor.
The leading grapplers have welcomed the move by the WFI to offer contracts.
"This revamp in wrestling was long due. It is a welcome step for the growth of wrestling in our country. I am delighted that even the junior wrestlers will be able to reap the benefits now. It would be a huge boost," said two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar.
Even Under-15 wrestlers will be brought under the contract system, the WFI has claimed.
"I can't tell you the contract slabs and selection as of now. Everything is being worked out by our commercial partners Sporty Solutionz. Some things have been written like the figures but not all is correct," said WFI Assistance Secretary Vinod Tomar.
Bajrang Punia, the only Indian wrestler to win two World Championship medals, said the contracts will provide a sense of security to all.
"The wrestlers will feel more secure now. This revamp, including the central contracts, will also encourage players to perform well. I am excited to be a part of this change," the 24-year-old said.
Vinesh Phogat, who won a gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta but missed out on World Championship due to an elbow injury, also hailed the WFI's move.
"I believe this push was required especially when players get injured or struggle for basic help. Giving incentives to players will not only boost their confidence but will also secure their future as athletes.
"Now, the junior Wrestlers will be more independent financially and will be motivated to give their best right from an early age," she said.
Sushil, Bajrang and Vinesh were apart of the deliberations on central contracts with the WFI.