Cricket was not the only game in India which was embroiled in controversy in 2017. There were several others as well that had their fair share of colourful moments both on and off the field. Wrestling, India’s most successful sport at the Olympics after hockey and shooting, saw its biggest star Sushil Kumar embroiled in a fresh controversy. The double Olympic medallist, who was battling injuries after winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, made a comeback to competitive wrestling after three years when he decided to compete at this year’s senior national championships. Sushil started his campaign well and won his first two bouts within a combined time of 2 minutes and 33 seconds. But he ran into controversy thereafter as his next three opponents decided to give him a walkover. As a result, Sushil won the gold despite not having to compete in the quarter-finals, semi-finals or the final. Although this caused a lot of uproar, Sushil’s opponents later justified their decision by pointing out that the “akhada” traditions of Indian wrestling forbid them from fighting against a respected senior. Sushil also stated that he would have done the same if faced with a similar situation. Sushil was also involved in another controversy on December 29 when wrestlers from his camp and those supporting upcoming star Parveen Rana clashed during the Commonwealth Games trials in the capital. In tennis, meanwhile, doubles legends Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi continued their two-decade-old feud.
Bhupathi, who is now the non-playing captain of the Indian Davis Cup team, decided to drop Paes from the squad for the tie against Uzbekistan in April. According to Bhupathi, Paes had joined the squad late and therefore did not handle enough stress situations before the tie to be eligible for the doubles team. Paes, who was dropped from the Davis Cup squad for the first time since his debut in 1990, asserted that he had won a Challenger title in Mexico just days before the tie, and should have made the team since he was in excellent form.
The row soon turned nasty as Bhupathi decided to go public with a social media conversation he had with Paes on the selection process. Indian athletics was also not immune to controversies as javelin star Davinder Singh Kang — India’s only finalist at the 2017 World Championships — was not included in the list of 107 athletes to be supported by the government under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). Kang, who also took the bronze at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships, was clearly unhappy with the decision and threatened to leave India and represent Italy. Indian hockey, which seems to earn more controversies than international honours these days, saw yet another unwanted episode with the sacking of coach Roelant Oltmans.
The Dutchman had received a brief email from Hockey India (HI) informing him that his services were no longer required, ending his four-year stint with Indian hockey. The decision came after a three-day meeting between top HI officials following India’s dismal performance at the Hockey World League semi-final and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The experienced Oltmans, who was appointed as High Performance Director of Indian hockey in 2013, was installed as chief coach of the national men’s team in 2016. A few days after his sacking, fellow Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne was appointed the chief coach.
In their efforts to justify Oltmans’ sacking, HI had alleged that the Dutchman had lost interest in the team after last year’s Rio Olympics and that he had left the players confused with the changes he made in the team and tactics. Oltmans, who had been handed a contract extension till the 2020 Olympics after the Rio Games, had angrily refuted those charges, pointing out that the tournaments following the 2016 Olympics were being used to find out the right combinations in the team. HI also got into a tiff with the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and the game’s world governing body following unseemly behaviour by Pakistani players after the Champions Trophy semi-final between the two subcontinental rivals.
Following India’s defeat in that match, the Pakistani players had made obscene gestures towards Indian fans and media. The HI had complained to the International Hockey Federation (FIH) who decided to take no action after Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh offered an apology. The HI took strong exception to the perceived weak approach by the FIH and decided not to host any event sanctioned by the world body until strong punishment was handed out to the offenders. The HI’s decision may affect the Men’s World Cup to be staged in Bhubaneswar next year since Pakistan have qualified for that tournament.