There have been controversies aplenty in the run-up to the Olympics. Sports enthusiasts were kept guessing which tennis combines would eventually go to Rio and then there was the Sushil-Narsingh fiasco. TOI looks at the upheavals, jostles and discrimination…NARSINGH VS SUSHIL: A GRAPPLING AFFAIRNarsingh Yadav is going to Rio, but what made bigger headlines over the last few months was an embarrassing dope -tainted saga of rivalry and sabotage featuring the country’s most decorated Olympic wrestler, Sushil Kumar , and his medal-hungry, determined protege from Varanasi.What began as a long-drawn fight albeit outside the ring for the sole 74kg berth for the Rio Olympics transpired into national shame when Narsingh testing positive for an anabolic steroid just weeks before the quadrennial sporting extravaganza.He cried conspiracy and a young wrestler was arrested for spiking his food at the SAI centre in Sonepat, where Narsingh was being given police protection after it emerged that there were threats to his life. Fingers were pointed at Sushil and his supporters for their alleged involvement, the former’s tweet ‘Respect had to be earned, not demanded’ right after Narsingh’s failed test adding to the suspicions.Sushil staked his claim to Rio based on his Beijing bronze and London silver medals while Narsingh rightfully earned his berth with the 2015 World Championships bronze. After his demands for a trial were rejected by Narsingh and the Wrestling Federation of India ( WFI ), Sushil gathered up support on social media and among his well-wishers. He even dragged the issue to the Delhi High Court, but eventually had to resign to his fate. He lost again when the WFI chose the unheard Parveen Rana as Narsingh’s replacement, quashing his hopes of a fourth successive Olympics.But amidst this brouhaha, the biggest defeat has been for wrestling and its eight-member squad for Rio. Having established his innocence, it is likely that this doping scandal could have an adverse effect on Narsingh’s hopes for a medal at Rio, given the immense mental pressure and lack of preparation he had to endure over the last few weeks.Indian tennis proved that some lessons are never learnt, as aftershocks of the selection row that played out ahead of the 2012 London Games threatened to drag the sport to farcical depths ahead of Rio 2016. Four years on, it felt like Indian tennis’ longest double-fault waiting to happen.Sania Mirza, by virtue of her world No. 1 ranking in women’s doubles, earned a spot in the mixed doubles draw in Rio. The Hyderabadi rightfully put her foot down, opting to play with Rohan Bopanna – another automatic entrant, thanks to his top-10 doubles ranking on the ATP Tour – with whom she enjoys a good rapport.However, men’s doubles proved the bone of contention again as Bopanna identified youngster Saketh Myneni as his preferred choice. With veteran Paes’ dreams of a seventh Olympics hinging solely on Bopanna, the AITA selection committee overruled the decision to forge a temporary truce between the two players.Back in 2012, Paes, then a top-10 player, wished to partner Bopanna only for the Kodava lad to refuse and insist on teaming up with his regular teammate on the ATP Tour, Mahesh Bhupathi. The Bengaluru duo got their wish after immense pressure and Paes, forced to play with the inexperienced Vishnu Vardhan, was offered the chance to play with the in-form Sania who was less than pleased with the entire situation. Sania ultimately felt like bait for Paes while Bhupathi – with whom she had won the French Open ahead of the Games – was denied a genuine shot at the mixed doubles title.Bopanna and Paes are still a strong combine and India’s best bet in men’s doubles and the duo will have to work out their differences, at least for now. While not much is expected of Sania and her talented young partner Prarthana Thombare in women’s doubles, her understanding with Bopanna could prove to be India’s best medal chance.RITU RANIThe Indian women’s hockey team will make an Olympic appearance after 36 years but one person who can’t bear to watch it even on television is former skipper RITU RANI . The 24-year-old’s inspirational leadership led the team into the Games but was unceremoniously dumped from the final squad days before the team was officially announced. She was accused of having attitude issues and lack of fitness in the build up to the event.Although there were rumours of Ritu ‘s differences with the team management for the past few months, it took a turn for the worse after her engagement to Punjabi singer Harsh Sharma in June. Ritu alleged she was treated unfairly and wasn’t given a chance to defend herself.While no player can take her place in an Olympic squad for granted, the people at the helm could have handled the situation sans the drama.SARDAR SINGHA week before the team was to leave for Rio, Sardar Singh cut a lonely figure amidst the infectiously enthusiastic bunch of Indian players. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was named captain in place of Sardar, a move which was expected but clearly did not go down well with the 30-year-old.But in the run-up to the quadrennial extravaganza Sardar was indented in controversies. In February this year, a former England U-19 player accused Sardar of ” rape and then criminal intimidation”. The woman of Indian origin filed a complaint with the Ludhiana police commissioner claiming she was in a relationship with Sardar for four years and they were engaged in 2014 but he refused to marry her. She even accused him of mental, physical and emotional torture.When the controversy broke out, Sardar refuted the charges. Hockey India chose to stay out of it, saying it was a private affair between two individuals. But the sword hung heavy on Sardar as he was ‘rested’ for the Champions Trophy held in London, where the woman’s family hails from. The midfielder was retained in the team but his captaincy was taken awayThe Indian Olympic Association’s appointment of Salman Khan (seen in pic with Dipa Karmakar) as the goodwill ambassador for the Indian Rio-bound contingent received mixed views and created ripples in the sports fraternity. While some said Salman’s presence will popularize the Games, many touted it as the Bollywood superstar’s gimmick to promote his movie Sultan. Sprint legend Milkha Singh and Olympic wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt were among the few fiercely against his appointment. “India has produced so many sportspersons who have given their sweat and blood for the country like PT Usha, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Ajit Pal and so many others. One of these could have been made a goodwill ambassador. What was the need to import a person from Bollywood?” Milkha had asked.Dutee’s qualification for Rio has been one of Indian sport’s most remarkable comebacks. Fighting social stigma and a discriminatory system, the pint-sized sprinter braved great hurdles to realize her Olympic dream. Two years ago, Dutee was dropped from the Indian Commonwealth Games squad for failing a hormone test, with the Athletics Federation of India ruling that hyperandrogenism -a condition which produces higher levels of testosterone in women -made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. Stung by the accusation, Dutee was ostracized by her own friends and fellow sportspersons, some even refusing to share a room with her. Inspired by South African sprinter Caster Semenya, who had a similar decision against her overturned, Dutee successfully appealed to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne against the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) and the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) stand on hyperandrogenism. CAS suspended the regulations for two years, asking IAAF to produce evidence on whether sportspersons with hyperandrogenism have advantageous performance levels, thereby making Dutee eligible to compete again.
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