New Delhi: If there is one Indian wrestler who has grabbed maximum attention in the last three months, he is Narsingh Pancham Yadav - first, for his bronze medal-winning feat at the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas in September and second, for earning an Olympic quota berth in the same weight category - 74kg - as the two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar.
The fate of wrestlers as to who will go to Rio de Janeiro for the quadrennial Games in August will be decided by the Wrestling Federation of India. It may be difficult call for the federation and is likely to invite controversy ahead of the Olympics, but Yadav doesn’t want to get distracted by it.
The 26-year-old would rather focus on preparations for Rio Games and he sees the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) as an important milestone for that.
The Mumbaikar is a marquee player for PWL’s Bengaluru Yodhas in the six-team league, where the matches will be played in round-robin format on home and away basis. He says he wants to make the maximum of playing alongside some of world’s best wrestlers and the league will serve as a great platform to prepare for the Olympics.
“It’s a federation’s prerogative to select a player for the Olympics and I am not thinking about it. What I can do is keep myself prepared and I feel the PWL is going to be an important tournament for me to prepare for Rio,” he told IBNLive.com.
“I am a marquee player for Bengaluru. It’s like being the captain of the team. It gives me more responsibility to perform well and I know the expectations from me will be high. There are a variety of wrestlers, including world and Olympic champions, who will participate in the PWL and we can learn a lot from them,” said Yadav.
The former Commonwealth Games (CWG) gold medallist Yadav feels the league is going to be a confidence-booster for youngsters and experienced players in equal measure.
“The young wrestlers will fight against world’s top wrestlers. Even if they give them a fight and don’t defeat, it will be a great confidence-booster for them. Just by watching how top wrestlers conduct themselves during practice and competition, they will get a lot of new things to learn. For the experienced lot, it will be a great chance to face a world-class field that they may face in upcoming competitions, especially at Rio Olympics," said Yadav.
Elaborating more about the advantage of playing in the league, he said: "It will be the first time we will be teammates of foreign wrestlers who often play against us. Developing camaraderie with them and crossing language barrier will be a different experience altogether. Our boys can learn skill and tactics by watching them from close quarters."
The commercial success of the Indian Premier League inspired many other sports federations in India to start their own leagues and within a few years hockey, badminton, kabaddi and tennis followed the path of cricket. The commercial interest also brought glamour into these sports.
Wrestling, however, has an image of being a rural sport, which is played in dangals across India, and majority of wrestlers come from rural areas. Won't glamour distract them from their path?
Yadav replied: "Anyone can get distracted from glamour, but it's about how we pursue the league. If we are taking it as a platform to learn we can gain a lot from it. It's a kind of opportunity we don't get in India every day. The league of this kind is a great initiative and Indian wrestlers are going to benefit from it, provided they take it seriously."
Yadav is the marquee player of a team which has the likes of Ukrainian Pavlo Oliynik (97kg), 2015 World Championship bronze medallist; Georgia's Modzmanashvili Davit (125kg), former Olympic silver and world championship bronze medallist; and compatriot Bajrang Punia, 2013 World Championships bronze and 2014 CWG silver medallist.
On paper, it gives the impression of a strong team, but in the PWL, where owners have spent hefty amount during bidding, there are stronger teams, beating who could be an uphill task for Bengaluru Yodhas.
When asked how does he rate his team's chances, Yadav said: "The real competition is on mat, and we will know about others only during the competition, but our boys have proved their mettle at top level and have won in Olympics and world meets. I think if we play up to our potential, we are quite capable of winning the title."