Anush Agarwalla the obvious choice in dressage for Paris 2024

Anush Agarwalla
Anush Agarwalla (PC: X)

In what can be termed as one of the most needless controversies generated before the Paris 2024 Olympic, the recalcitrant Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) dragged its feet before announcing the name of Anush Agarwalla as the dressage rider who makes the cut.

Facts before fiction. Anush was the sole rider from Kolkata, based in Europe, who had secured the Olympic qualification slot as early as February 2024. Yes, in many sporting disciplines, equestrian included, the quota place won is for the nation and not the individual athlete. As a dressage rider, Anush will be the first to represent India in the Olympics, a massive achievement. Before this, only the three-day eventing riders have made the cut. In Tokyo, Fouaad Mirza had made the cut.

Over the last one week, suspense was created for Anush, his family members and all those who comprise his team. Suddenly, another rider, Shruti Vora’s name started doing the rounds. Anyone who has followed equestrian over the years is aware what impact Anush had made at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last year. He had won two medals in dressage – gold medal in team and bronze medal in individual – which was first ever for India in this particular discipline at an Asian Games. Indians were known only for good performances in three-day eventing before this.

The men who run (or ruin) the EFI are those who have done nothing for the riders. If you go through expenses they have incurred or money spent in their balance sheets, it is not on the sport, but more on fighting legal battles in courts of law. And that, too, for saving their own ‘seats’ in office. There has been a plethora of legal cases which have been going on for over four years, but the riders have been the last priority.

Nothing changed this time as well. What was galling was how the EFI suddenly started putting out press releases through its PR machinery for Shruti, 52. Yes, Shruti has been a rider attempting to win laurels for India for many years. But then, to hype her was wrong. She had won a three-star Grand Prix event held in Slovenia, with her mount Magnanimous. Where the EFI and Shruti herself had created a massive hype was in how she was going to dislodge Anush as India’s first rider choice.

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Anush Agarwalla in action
Anush Agarwalla in action (PC: Anush Agarwalla/X)

Equestrian is a technical sport and the scoring system is not easy to understand.  In Slovenia, Shruti had a 67.61 per cent to show as performance and two more of her Grand Prix performances were 66.543 per cent and 66.174 per cent. This was well below the normal 70 which is expected at any meet where judging is done very judiciously.

A media blitz happened in one newspaper where Shruti was suddenly being hyped as if she was the best to represent India in Paris 2024, and EFI was playing ball in it. That’s when the true colours of the EFI again came to the front as they have done nothing for Anush. His family, based in Kolkata, has been spending money in enormous amounts which cannot even be thought of. Minus sponsors, to be part of the equestrian circuit at the world level is impossible. Either the riders are from rich countries like Japan or from certain areas in Europe where accessibility to horse and training facilities are top class.

For an Indian rider like Anush to be based abroad, work hard for years and then deliver on the Asian Games stage was a sign he had arrived. He was the obvious choice for Paris as well, before Shruti Vora’s name started doing the rounds.

The selection committee of the EFI on Tuesday wanted us to believe as if they were relying on data to name Anush as the choice ahead of Shruti on scores, MERS (minimum eligibility requirement) etc. There was no need to do all this and put it out in public domain, really, as equestrian is not a sport where you can easily measure performance by quantity.

RevSportz has access to mails sent from the world body (FEI) to India, wherein in February itself it was clear, India had won an individual quota in dressage. At that time, there was only one contender in fray, Anush. Suddenly, Shruti came into the picture, in the last few weeks. By all accounts, those who were part of the EFI selection meeting on Tuesday used scores achieved plus MERS in the last one year before naming Anush as the obvious choice. For the record, Shruti is a reserve, but that situation arises only if something goes majorly wrong with Anush in the last 30 days before the Olympics.

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