Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat were included in the top Rs 30-lakh Grade A along with Pooja Dhanda as the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on Friday rolled out its revolutionary central contracts system for the grapplers. It was expected that Bajrang and Vinesh, who won the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games gold medals this year, will be kept in the top grade. Pooja had become only the fourth Indian woman to win a medal at the World Championship recently. Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, who are struggling with form for quite some time, could not make the top Grade. They will figure in the Grade B, which will offer a financial support of Rs 20 lakh for one year. The contracts will be reviewed after one year.
WFI is the only Indian Olympic Association-affiliated National Sports Federation to offer contracts to its athletes and only the second after the BCCI.
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The announcement was made by WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in the presence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath, who inaugurated the senior National Championship at Nandini Nagar here.
"Grapplers could move up or down after review in the grades," said Singh.
WFI Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar said the contract will come in effect from November 15. "The wrestlers will be paid on quarterly basis. It will give them self dependency," said Tomar adding that no one is required to furnish details on how the fund has been spent.
It has been learnt that wrestlers, after signing the contract with WFI, will not be allowed to take any other financial support from other organisations like JSW. Asked about the decision to put Sushil and Sakshi in Grade B, Sharan Singh said, "Sushil changed the face of the sport in the country with his two Olympic medals. We have to have him in the list despite the fact that he is not competing much.
"Sakshi's performance is also going up and down but wrestlers can jump into the next category with good performance."
Vinesh hailed the move saying it will give a huge boost to the sport at the junior level.
"It is good for the junior wrestlers. It will be an added motivation. There will be medal, fame and support. It's really a good incentive for the Cadet and junior level wrestlers," Vinesh told PTI.
Vinesh said the support will also help established stars like her.
"The budget will shoot up now and we can use it for more exposure in terms of training and competitions abroad. We can plan better now without worrying about funds. I plan to compete in at least 5 tournaments, specially the UWW ranking events, next year," she said.
Sakshi, who is enduring a tough time, said she was a tad "disappointed" for not featuring in the top grade.
"Yes, I was expecting to be in top grade but once I again start performing strong, there is a good chance to get upgraded to the top bracket," she said.
Talking about her lean patch, Sakshi said, "I was winning in last 4-5 seconds earlier but now I am losing at the same time, giving away points in the last few seconds. I think I am getting puzzled. I am working on mat. We are not machines, performance can go up and down."
The C category, offering support of Rs 10 lakh, features Sandeep Tomar, Greco Roman grappler Sajan Bhanwala, Vinod Om Prakash, Ritu Phogat, Sumit Malik, talented Deepak Punia and Asian Games bronze medallist Divya Kakran.
The D category, which will give Rs 5 lakh support, will have Rahul Aware, Naveen, Utkarsh Kale, Sachin Rathi, Greco Roman's Vijay, Ravi Kumar, Simran, Mansi and Anshu Malik.
There are four wrestlers in category E for Rs three lakh support: Navjot Kaur, Kiran, Harpreet Singh and Jitendra Kumar.
Categories from G to I will have 30 gold medallists each from Under-23, Junior, Cadet and Under-15 National championships.
Category F wrestlers (U-23) will get Rs 1,20,000 per year, Category G (Junior) Rs 90,000, Category H (Cadet) Rs 60,000 and Category I (U-15) Rs 36,000 every year.
"Wrestlers in the G to I categories will be upgraded to next Grade when they win gold medals at the Asian and World level," said Tomar.