Wrestling Federation-TOPS wrestle over Vinesh’s Bulgaria trip

A training camp for wrestler Vinesh Phogat in Bulgaria has been approved by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). However, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) said they rejected the wrestler’s proposal.

A statement from SAI on Wednesday said that Phogat “will train in Belmeken, Bulgaria, an altitude training area located approximately 2600m above sea level”.

Phogat has departed for the 19-day camp (November 7-26) in Belmeken, where she will train under Bulgarian coach Serafim Barzakov, a silver medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The camp is expected to have other top wrestlers such as Bilyana Dudova (2021 World Championship gold medalist) and Evelina Nikolova (2020 Olympic bronze medalist), the statement said. Vinesh is accompanied by her physiotherapist Ashwini Patil.

WFI said when its proposal on the proposal was solicited a month ago, there was no green light.

“We didn’t think it would help the wrestler and let TOPS know. There is no competition and we thought that a camp in Bulgaria made no sense. The next tournament is the national championship next month. We also weren’t sure if she’ll have good sparring partners there,” a WFI official said on condition of anonymity.

The proposal was sent to the Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) subcommittee, which has experts in specific disciplines to consider it.

Vinesh’s proposal has been shared with the Federation for their consideration. The MOC Committee then recommended the proposal to the subcommittee for detailed evaluation of the proposal,” the SAI said in a statement on the subject.

“The four-member sub-committee, including Yogeshwar Dutt, determined that the training stint at the academy would allow the wrestler to have exposure to international sparring partners and approved the proposal. They were also satisfied with the quality of the coaches and the infrastructure of the academy.”

After the Tokyo Olympics, where it lost in the quarterfinals, the WFI had raised the issue that the MOC would authorize international travel by athletes under TOPS without the approval of the federation. Since then, WFI has insisted that wrestlers train at national camps and only go on foreign tours when they deem it necessary.

Phogat, on a comeback trail, won gold at the Commonwealth Games and then bronze at the World Championships in September. Their somber show at the Tokyo Olympics had led to a duel with WFI.

TOPS also approved the proposal of Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Bajrang Punia to compete in the Bill Farrell International Wrestling Championship on November 18-19 in New York. WFI said it had given its approval. “He’s going to a competition. The US wrestlers did very well this time at the World Championships,” the WFI official said.

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