Chandigarh: Haryana slipped to the second position in the medal tally in the just-concluded edition of the Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG), losing its last year’s overall champion status to Maharashtra Saturday.
The state won 11 fewer gold medals and nine less in the overall tally, from last year’s 52 gold medals and 137 overall medals, won in the 2022 games held in Haryana. This year’s tournament was held in Madhya Pradesh.
Interestingly, the drop in Haryana’s medal tally was largely in sports requiring muscle power, in which athletes from the state have traditionally shone, both in the national and international arena. At the 2023 Khelo India Youth Games, Haryana bagged seven less gold medals than last year in wrestling, while its win in boxing was also two gold medals short of last year’s tally.
The state is known for its wrestling prowess, with athletes — including women — having won medals at international events like Olympics. More than 30 per cent of India’s individual medals in Olympics have been won by those from Haryana. In last year’s Commonwealth Games, sportsmen and women from Haryana won 22 medals, nearly 35 per cent of India’s total haul.
Wrestlers from the state like wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Deepak Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Naveen and Ravi Dahiya, were among those who won gold medals.
“The recent controversy between the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and Olympic and Commonwealth medal winning wrestlers from Haryana cast its shadow on the selection process (for Khelo India). Certain players were not considered because they did not participate in the grand prix organised by the WFI,” said a coach, who didn’t want to be named, referring to a protest by wrestlers at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar last month.
The wrestlers were protesting against the alleged sexual harassment of multiple women wrestlers by WTI president and Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Earlier the Haryana sports department had been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment brought in by a woman coach against former minister Sandeep Singh, who stepped down from the post after being booked in the case.
“Our players didn’t get enough training before the games and even the selection was not proper. Precisely, this was one of the biggest grouse of the wrestlers who held protests against the WFI in Delhi recently,” said Bhupinder Singh Hooda, leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly.
Talking to ThePrint, Pankaj Nain, director, Sports and Youth Affairs, Haryana, said the number of medals in the Khelo India Youths Games may not necessarily be reflective of the sporting prowess of a state, because some states may get a locational advantage.
He also pointed to the medals awarded for state-specific sports (like kayaking and canoeing for coastal states) and traditional games like yogasana, malakhamba (a kind of gymnastic), and kalaripayattu (a martial arts form).
“Imagine 11 players competing for just one hockey medal while a single player may take away many medals in these traditional games,” he said.
Nain also claimed players from Haryana had performed remarkably well in athletics this time.
He added: “Our main emphasis for the future will be to invest more in Olympic sports, like swimming, athletics and badminton, so that our players can perform better at the international level.”
The Khelo India Youth Games is an annual multi-disciplinary sports competition for young athletes in India. The games provide a platform for athletes under 18 years of age to showcase their talents and compete against other talented athletes from across the country, and covers a wide range of sports, including athletics, swimming, gymnastics, shooting, and more.
Haryana emerged champion in the inaugural Khelo India Youth Games in 2018, then called the Khelo India School Games, but Maharashtra clinched the KIYG title in 2019 and 2020. In both years, Haryana was in second place. The overall winner is decided on the basis of most gold medals won by a state and not the most number of total medals won.
After being repeatedly postponed in 20221, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the KIYG was finally held in Haryana last year, where the host state won the overall championship.
This time, Haryana won 41 gold, 32 silver and 55 silver medals, compared to its tally of 52 gold medals, 39 silver and 46 bronzes last year.
In contrast, Maharashtra bagged 56 gold medals, 55 silver and 50 bronze medals this year, against 45 gold medals, 40 silver and 40 bronze wins last year.
Haryana won medals in 19 of 28 total games, of which it won gold medals in 13. Last year, Haryana had won medals in 21 games of which 15 were gold.
While the state won seven medals fewer than last year in wrestling, and two fewer in boxing, Haryana also bagged four gold medals fewer than last year in swimming, three in Judo, and one each in gatka (a martial arts form), yoga and hockey. In weightlifting, Haryana’s medal tally was reduced to two, from four last year.
Haryana failed to win a single medal in basketball, football, gatka, Kho-Kho, mallakhamba, tennis, table tennis and kalaripayattu. Its biggest gold deficit came in wrestling, where its medal tally came down from 16 last year to only nine this time.
While Nain said the Haryana Sports Department was contemplating suggesting to the organizers that traditional and state-specific games should be a separate category — Olympics and non-Olympic disciplines — an official in the department, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Print that a report has been sought from the heads of various sports bodies and a meeting is likely to be held within a week to review the state’s performance in Khelo India.
(This is an updated version of the copy.)
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)