Two time Olympic medalist Shushil Kumar, who was one of India’s most celebrated wrestlers, is now a wanted man. A look at the man’s journey to his downfall
Every wrestler who has trained at Chhatrasal Stadium complex over the last two decades knew the truth but turned a blind eye for the sake of being not noticed by two men, and i.e., Mahabali Satpal Singh and Sushil Singh Pehelwan! Sushil was only 14 when he joined the Chhatrasal complex to train under a former Asian Games gold medallist, Satpal.
By the time he won his second Olympic medal in 2012, Chhatrasal wrestling complex became India’s premium centre for budding wrestling. But only for those, who are ready to accept their (two men) supremacy. And those who dared to challenge them inside or outside the Chhatrasal premises, were thrown out teams and premises unceremoniously.
Even Sushil’s childhood friend and 2012 London bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt had to leave Chhatrasal arena for not adhering to the well-established rules of Satpal & family. This started Chhatrasal’s monopoly in getting wrestlers into various Indian wrestling squads.
Sushil took firm control over the Chhatrasal complex after marrying Satpal’s daughter.
The Chhatrasal Akhara, under the Delhi administration, became his personal property since then. That’s why when Maharashtra’s Bajrang Punia won the Olympic quota for Rio Games in 2016, Satpal and Sushil used all tricks to stop him from competing there, even if that came at the cost of India’s no show in that weight category.
Sushil and Satpal wanted a selection trial in the name that the Olympic quota is for a country and not for any individual. But the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) refused it. Sushil moved a plea in Delhi High Court which was also dismissed. This was the time when Yogeshwar stood for Narsingh and was forced to leave Chhatrasal complex post controversy.
In a few days’ time, Narsingh was tested positive for anabolic steroids and alleged that his food was contaminated at the national camp in Sonepat by a junior wrestler from Chhatrasal, suggesting that Sushil or Satpal were involved. It led to a bitter, long-drawn fight with even the CBI getting involved.
In 2017, Parveen Rana, another international wrestler, who had been Sushil’s training partner for many years left Chhatrasal complex by alleging assault by Sushil’s men after the national team’s selection trials.
Sushil, an absconder
Now the big question is how wrestler Sushil, the only one to have won double Olympic medal post-independence, has become an absconder wanted in a murder case of another international wrestler, Sagar Dhankad, on May 4.
How come a champion who inspired a revolution in Indian wrestling that saw many youngsters follow in his footsteps post 2008 Beijing Games, become a part of the gang that assaulted and killed a former junior national champion in the 97-kg Greco-Roman category and a part of India’s senior national camp?
Going by police version, 23-year-old Sagar and his friends lived in a rented apartment owned by Sushil. And the tension started when Sushil asked his junior wrestler to vacate the place. The Delhi Police is considering the possibility that the murder was premeditated. As per reports, citing the FIR, it has come to light that Sagar was called for a chat by Sushil and his aides.
In fact, police have recovered cell phone footage in which Sushil and his friends can be seen assaulting Sagar and his friends inside the Chhatrasal Stadium complex.
The initial police statement says that they received information about a firing incident inside the stadium late in the night. On reaching the stadium, the police team found and seized five vehicles parked inside the stadium. One of the cars had a double-barrel gun with seven 12 bore cartridges.
Three injured persons had already been taken by a police patrol van to the nearby hospital, where Sagar succumbed to his injuries. Sushil was not just the only second Indian wrestler after Kashabha Dadasaheb Jadhav in 1952 to win an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 Beijing Olympic Games but was the first one to win the 2010 World Championships.
Sushil’s downward journey began much before the 2016 Rio episode. It was just after when he attained his career heights post 2012 London Games silver medal, that Sushil started getting various business opportunities, including modelling assignments. But his indulgence in managing the “toll plazas” in and around Delhi periphery was his entrance into a world where this kind of businesses cannot be handled without the backing of prominent gangsters of these areas.
The incidents involving Praveen Rana and subsequently Narsingh Yadav dented the soft image of Sushil forever in the wrestling circles. But even then, some of his near and dear ones were blaming it on his father-in-law Satpal’s high ambitions. That’s how when Satpal retired as administrator of Chhatrasal Stadium, he ensured that his son-in-law is posted as his successor by using his all-political clout on deputation from the Railways.
Not just that, Sushil also overtook charge of School Games Federation of India (SGFI) from its longest serving administrator, Satpal in 2016. This surprised one and all because Sushil was then actively competing at international level. The biggest controversy of Sushil’s first term as SGFI president erupted when a 15-year-old girl footballer, Nitisha Negi, drowned in Australia. It came to light that the SGFI did not have approval to send the team abroad from the Indian government. But it had taken money from the players as a participation fee. And when Sushil was unanimously re-elected as president of SGFI again in March 2021, Sports ministry had revoked official recognition of the organisation between his two tenures citing mismanagement and corruption.
No time for comeback now
The last time when Sushil wrestled on the mat was at the 2019 World Championships. With an eye on the Tokyo Games, India’s most famous wrestler wanted to prove his mettle once again to the world. But he lost in the first round 9-11, after having a five-point lead at one point. Sushil was clearly a shadow of his past, lacking in stamina and will-power needed to survive at the highest level.
There is no doubt that Sushil’s reputation as one of the greatest Olympians in the country is now at the point of getting tarnished unless he surrenders to the law agencies and clears his name legally. The case will certainly be investigated, and his involvement needs to be proved in the court of law.
The Wrestling Federation of India is concerned that the good reputation built over the years with stupendous international performances, many of them given by Sushil himself, has been ruined. As our law says, Sushil remains innocent until proven guilty. But a person of his stature cannot remain fugitive like a criminal!