Bajrang Punia To Get Financial Aid Despite Not Qualifying For Paris Olympic Games

As per the selection criteria, the top four wrestlers in all the Olympic weight categories will take on the quota winner in the final selection trials to decide who will represent India at the Paris Games

Bajrang Punia won a bronze medal in Tokyo Olympics 2020. Photo: File

The Sports Ministry on Tuesday approved wrestler Bajrang Punia's request for financial assistance and also extended the tenure of his strength and conditioning coach Kazi Kiron Mustafa Hasan till end of May even though he is out of contention for the Paris Olympics this year. (More Wrestling News)

Punia, who is part of a long-standing protest against the Wrestling Federation of India for alleged sexual harassment of women grapplers by its former President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, had failed to finish in the top-four of the 65kg category at the recent trials to pick the squads for the Asian Championships and the Asian Olympic Qualifiers next month.

"Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) also approved wrestler Bajrang Punia's proposal for financial assistance and extension of service of his strength and conditioning expert Kazi Kiron Mustafa Hasan till end of May 2024, when final selection trials for the Paris Olympics will take place," the ministry stated in a press release without specifying the amount approved for him.

As per the selection criteria, the top-four in all the Olympic weight categories will take on the quota winner in the final selection trials to decide who will represent India at the Games.

Another protesting wrestler, Vinesh Phogat, has kept herself in contention in the 53kg category by finishing inside top-four at the recent trials, while making the cut for the Asian qualifiers in the 50kg division.

Apart from the 30-year-old Punia, the MOC also approved Commonwealth Games champion table tennis player Sreeja Akula's request for financial assistance to train in Chinese Taipei ahead of the Olympics.

Sreeja, who won the mixed doubles gold at 2022 CWG in Birmingham along with veteran Sharath Kamal, will train under coach Liu Jun-Lin for 12 days.

 "..during her stay she will also spar against various other paddlers at the club," Ministry said in a media release.

The MOC also approved judoka Tulika Mann's request for financial assistance for participation in a Grand Slam event in Antalya, Turkey followed by training camp at the same location.

Besides foreign training, MOC also approved proposals for financial assistance to participate in competitions for table tennis players Manav Thakkar and Payas Jain.

 While Manav will head to Havirov, Czech-Repulic for WTT Feeder event, Payas Jain will go to WTT Feeder events in Dusseldorf, Germany and Havirov, Czech-Repulic.

Ministry, under its Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) funding will cover their airfare, accommodation and food costs, entry fee (for competitions) among other expenditures.After a phenomenal 2015, which saw him win twice on the European Tour, and the T5 finish at the PGA Championship aiding his elevation to the PGA Tour, Lahiri had a comparatively quiet phase, until he finished runner-up at The Players Championship in 2022.

It was a second runner-up finish since the Indian's run at the 2017 Memorial Tournament. He then switched to LIV Golf but a title has eluded him although he came close in Boston in 2022 and Adelaide, Bedminister and Chicago in 2023.

"It's been a while and nobody feels that more than I do. You know the weight of I don't know how many dozens of seconds I've had, lays heaviest on my shoulders. So I need to get that off my back," said Lahiri.

"It takes me back to when I was starting my career. So even though I've played 15-16 years, I'm still as desperate to win this week because I have to prove it to myself. I don't have to prove it to anybody else.

"The first time I played here was 1999, so it goes down memory lanes. I came here with fewer hairs and more grey this year, so time has passed. It has been a fantastic ride. So it is an important week for me."