There seems to be a judicious mixture of nepotism and corruption that have numbed the State’s sports fraternity. This will have serious implications on the future of athletes and sports in general. In an exclusive story, RK Tayal probes into the recent controversy surrounding the selection of Wushu players from the state for participation at the ongoing National Games 2022.
By RK Tayal
Revered as the powerhouse of sports in India, Manipur has produced numerous athletes who had brought laurels to the State and the entire country. For such remarkable contributions in the realm of sports, the union government decided to construct the country’s first ever Sports University in the State. But amidst the laurels and contributions, there seems to be a judicious mixture of nepotism and corruption that have numbed the State’s sports fraternity. This will have serious implications on the future of athletes and sports in general.
A huge controversy broke out recently regarding the selection of Wushu athletes to represent Manipur in the 36th National Games, 2022 which is being held at Gujarat from September 27. The controversy has sparked uproar and protest from Wushu athletes in the State, pointing to possibility of alleged nepotism and corruption in the selection of Wushu players.
In July, 2022 the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had published the preamble for the qualification system which consisted of criteria and procedures for entry to participate in the competitions of the National Games. The qualification system laid out the qualification criteria, process of entry, Invitational Places (Wild Card) and other norms and rules for entry into the 36th National Games, 2022.
Following the publication of the qualification system, the Wushu Association of India on 26 July, 2022 notified all States in the country to submit the names of the qualified Wushu athletes along with their events and weight category. The Association set the deadline for the submission by name before 10th August, 2022.
As such, the trials for the Manipur Wushu team for the National games was conducted on August 14, 2022 after it was decided by the Wushu Ad-hoc Committee formed under the Manipur Olympics Association (MOA). MOA was given authority to conduct the State trial in light of the court dispute Wushu Association of Manipur is undergoing. MOA published the selection order of the trial on August 17, 2022 in which 11 wushu players representing different Wushu Events were selected. The selection list was also published in the State’s local dailies the following day. However, the surfacing of another selection list on-line just weeks after the publication of the selection order cloaked the State’s Wushu Community in the confusion.
The new list included 21 players from the State with 5 players from the earlier selection order included and 6 players left with no feasible explanation. Among the new 21 selected athlete, there is also one athlete in the Nanquan/Nangun (Male) event who sent an application to the MOA requesting to not participate in the ongoing National Games due to an injury in the knee ligament.
Investigation by The Frontier Manipur (TFM) raises the pertinent question of whether power and corruption had infiltrated the selection process for the Manipur Wushu Team. Coaches and athletes in the State have also raised suspicion over involvement of top brass in the sports community in alleged manipulation and distortion of official documents.
Speaking to TFM through phone, officials from the Wushu Association of India asserted that the new selection list was published by the Association keeping in lines with the criteria set by the IOA. The officials maintained that the Wushu Association of India published the new selection list in compliance with the IOA’s criteria. When TFM inquired about the specific criteria, the official could not quote the exact criteria nor produce it in document. When asked about the date and details of when the new list was published, the official simply diverted the matter to IOA, replying, “further discussions to IOA”. TFM also reached out to IOA for clarification regarding the reported ‘guidelines’ with no success. TFM went to meet MOA but all officials were out of station for the games and telephonic outreach remain unsuccessful. TFM also reached out to the Secretary of Union Sports Ministry Sujata Chaturvedi but she was also out of station for the National Games.
It is worth pointing out that the IOA published only one qualification system in the public domain with no further amendments or new additional guidelines. Coaches and athletes have alleged that specific ‘guidelines’ is only applied in Wushu discipline and not across all sports disciplines in the National Games.
TFM Source, a member of the Ad-hoc Committee, Wushu (identity withheld) alleged that the new selection list did not ‘appear’ official in nature and is likely to have been forged by unknown individuals. According to the source, the list appeared out of the blue, without prior notification from the IOA or Wushu Association of India. The source questioned the authenticity of the list, saying it is unlikely that official notices would be sent only online and not in hard copy. The Ad-hoc member pointed out the suspected foul nature of the list, noting the absence of official letterhead in the new selection list and the inconsistency in the president’s signature and insignia imprinted.
It further alleged, there are no specific criteria in IOA’s entire qualification system to select Wushu players who had finished within the top 16 brackets in the Senior National Wushu Championships held recently. The source lambasted Wushu Association of India’s claim that the new list had been published following IOA’s order pointing to the possibility of corruption between the State and National Wushu authorities.
The source further added that several aggrieved guardians of athletes who were selected in the trials but left out in the second list had approached the MOA about the new list on September 3 but MOA officials could not provide any reasonable explanations. It recounted that MOA officials had also pointed out the suspicious nature of the document. As told by the source, during the first approach, MOA did not produce any official notice or order regarding the cancellation of the August 17 selection order. But when the guardians returned with a legal notice addressed to the President and General Secretary of both IOA and MOA on September 6, it was only then MOA produced the cancellation order dated August 31, the source stated.
As such, the source who is also a member of the Wushu Ad-hoc committee questioned how the MOA had taken such decision without informing any of the 11 members of the committee. MOA had not convened any meeting to discuss the matter nor to dissolve the various resolutions taken by the committee during the emergent on August 9. The source further questioned whether MOA verified the authenticity of the new list before adhering to it.
The source highlighted that International Wushu Rules allows a maximum of 2 persons to participate in Taolu event and only one in Sanda but in the new selection list, for Sanda event, 3 persons are selected in the 52 Kg Women’s category, 2 in 60 Kg Women’s Category, 2 in Men’s 60 Kg category and 2 in Men’s 75 kg category.
Speaking to TFM, Y. Echantombi, a national sub-junior champion Wushu athlete selected in the State Trials and barred from the new lists said, it is really disheartening to athletes who dedicate their whole life to bring laurels to the State. She expressed discontentment with MOA for not standing firm for the left out athletes and the 6 resolutions it took along with the Ad-hoc committee when initiating the conduct of the State trials.
She pointed to the possibility of nepotism and favoritism in framing the second selection list. Sobbing as she answered to queries, Echantombi stated that her morale took a dip after the incident and that she is finding it difficult to focus on her budding athletic career. She appealed to authorities concerned to look into the matter and save ‘sports’ from the menace of corruption and nepotism.
Meanwhile, also speaking to TFM, T. Bonish Singh, the player with the knee ligament injury and selected in the second list, stated that there is no denying politics had entered into the sports fraternity in the State. But he expressed affirmation that the new list was legitimate and without any wrong influence, as he or anyone he knew in the list did not approach any top officials for favour in the selection. Bonish highlighted that the Manipuri players selected in the second list were those who had qualified for the Senior National Wushu Championships which was held this year at Bhopal. The players who finished within 8th place in the medal tally are all selected in the new list, he added.
He maintained, he had not appeared for the State trial which was held on August 14 as the doctor had advised bed rest for the knee injury. Bonish said, he sent an application along with a medical certificate to MOA on September 1 requesting to not participate in the Games due to his knee injury. But only after careful consideration he decided to join, he added. Bonish is currently undergoing physiotherapy and preparing for the games at the Wushu athletes camp at Khuman Lampak, Imphal.
It may be mentioned that guardians of the 6 left-out athletes had filed a writ petition to the High Court of Manipur following which the apex State court stated “In view of the urgent nature of the case, this Court is of the considered view that, it will be appropriate and in the interest of justice to direct the respondent Nos. 3, 4 & 5 to consider the cases of the petitioners as to whether they can participate in the said National Games representing Manipur in Wushu discipline in terms of the selection list dated 17th August, 2022. It is hoped that the authorities will consider the cases of the petitioners and make a final decision before the commencement of the said National Games.”
However, according to the TFM source (the Ad-hoc Committee, Wushu member), the court’s directive for the consideration of the petitioners plea were never made. Authorities concerned never called for any meeting or made any efforts to reach out to the athletes and their guardians, the source added.
It may also be mentioned that State Minister for Rural Development and PR/ MAHUD had sent a letter to the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Anurag Singh Thakurji highlighting the urgency of the said matter and requesting the Union Minister to “kindly issue suitable instruction to the Wushu Federation of India and Indian Olympic Association for issue of entry pass” for two Wushu Players, namely Y. Echanombi in Sanda (Female) event and Y. Arnold Singh in Taolu (Male) event. The MAHUD Minister also highlighted the nature of the new selection list saying “two wushu players were barred from entry to the games by an unofficial note circulated through whatsapp”.
Even after all the application and court order there is no positive sign for the deselected athletes, the pertaining question now remains whether or not Manipur Olympic Association had done enough to assert the rights of athletes in the State. Their inability to stick to their resolutions and stand firm as an apex sports institute in the State is outcry of the athletes and guardians alike in the State.