Pawan Sehrawat had declared ‘ apna gold wapas leke ayenge’ on the eve of the final against Iran. And after all the drama on field, he admitted it felt good to hold the gold.
“The gold you lose, if it comes back it always feels great. it’s like when there is a robbery at your house and you manage to recover all your stuff, it’s the same feeling. We have got back what was always ours,” the India captain declared, even if the Indian players had to wait an hour more to get it around their necks.
But whatever happened in the men’s kabaddi final made little sense to those watching it from the outside, it was equally flabbergasting for those on it. But there was unanimity on one point – the referees messed it up. “I’ve been with kabaddi for more than 25 years, as a player and coach and I’ve never had this kind of crazy experience. The referees make a decision, India team gets reviewed, jury said one point each. Then India pressed and the referee changed everything and closed the match for one hour! This is not possible in kabaddi.
“I don’t know about that point but it was a big mistake because I think there were two-three persons on the jury who very weak because they are not player, coach or referee. But we have too many people and they can’t make a decision,” a despondent Iran coach Gholamreza Mazandarani said.
As coach of the side that finished second in 2014 as well as won gold in 2018, Mazandarani was categorical in his criticism. “In Incheon also there was problem but it was not about refereeing. It was about the match and India team won, we don’t have a problem. Here it was not our mistake, it was not their mistake, it was jury’s mistake. It was very bad,” he added.
His captain Fazel Atrachali admitted the change in rules was confusing. “The problem is that we don’t know what rules are followed. Here they were changed and in Pro Kabaddi, it’s different. They have seven substitutes there, we have five here — Iran team didn’t know. The raider coming to lobby and defence coming there was also given out, we didn’t know so we fought for that,” he explained. “This is very bad for the final of the Asian Games, they stopped the match for one hour and all referees were very weak and they were not good. If any decision you can’t tell in one or two minutes in the final, this is not good,” he added.
Across the line, India coach Bhaskaran Edachery voiced similar thoughts. “I have been in kabaddi for 32 years. I’ve never seen such refereeing because this was under pressure. But our boys stood their ground. I have never seen federation officials coming down to the technical area before. If they don’t sort this soon it will reflect badly on the sport. I completely agree that it was weak refereeing, officials were not listening to jury also,” he exclaimed.
Pawan insisted the problem was not with the decisions per se but with the way they were being taken. “If they had given one decision and stuck to it, right or wrong, we would have accepted. We used our right to refer and they gave a decision. The problem was their decisions were being taken by someone else from outside. Things happen in a game, in the third raid we managed an out but they asked us to re-raid. We didn’t protest, it’s a high-intensity game and it’s ok to be cautious or even make an occasional mistake. But to make such arbitrary changes at such a crucial moment? Everything was fine but one decision ruined a great match,” he rued.
Pawan also indirectly indicated at bias. “Interesting things are happening here in Asian Games with Indians and officials, it happened with Neeraj (Chopra) also. It seems they have some extra love for us. But Neeraj fought back and we did too, gold is ours only,” he declared.
The women, meanwhile, had relief and pride. “For the last five years, the silver was a burden on our shoulders that we have finally taken off. This gold doesn’t feel heavy, we have only won back what is ours,” Sakshi Punia, one of only two players from the team at Jakarta – the other being captain Ritu Negi – declared. “Everywhere we went, we were asked about losing in 2018. Many even wrote us off as spent forces as other teams came up. We had to prove we are the best,” she admitted.
“When I won gold as the captain in 2010 and 2014, I never thought Indian team will ever finish second in kabaddi. Today winning again with this team as a coach is great. The winning feeling as a player is always special but this one was a lot more tougher,” coach Tejaswini Bai laughed.