The Indian sports fraternity on Wednesday was witness to unprecedented scenes as some of the country’s top wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik sat at a protest at the Jantar Mantar and levelled allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) coaches and the federation’s president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Vinesh Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, said that “national coaches molested female wrestlers over the years and were given death threats by WFI officials.” She along with other top Indian wrestlers sat a massive protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday. The wrestlers have called for the removal of the WFI president from the post.
Later, Bajrang Punia made an emotional appeal to the wrestling community. “My request to all of you who are associated with wrestling – coaches, fellow wrestlers, and others, this is a fight to protect our game. So, kindly stand with us. Our president (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh) is saying that only three per cent of the wrestling are raising allegations while the rest are with him. So, we have to stand united to protect our game. We have to stand together and stay united. It is very important to save wrestling because it has given us everything. You are associated with wrestling, so do support us,” Bajrang Punia said in an Instagram post.
Vinesh, Bajrang’s allegations
Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, world championship medallist Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha, Amit Dhankar and CWG medallist Sumit Malik were among 30 wrestlers who assembled at the famous protest site.
Vinesh, a world championship medallist and Olympian, also claimed that several coaches at a national camp in Lucknow have exploited women wrestlers, adding that there are a few women at the camp who approach wrestlers at the behest of the WFI President.
“Some coaches are close to the national federations. Those coaches have exploited young girls. Don’t know how many young girls have suffered due to them,” Vinesh stated.
The 28-year-old though clarified that she herself has not faced such exploitation but claimed that she had received death threats at the behest of WFI president from officials close to him because she dared to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention to several issues plaguing Indian wrestling when she met him after the Tokyo Games.
“I know at least 10-20 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of (the) WFI President. They told me their stories. I can’t take their names now but I can definitely reveal the names if we get to meet the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country,” Vinesh said addressing the media after staging a four-hour ‘dharna’ at Jantar Mantar.
“I have received death threats from people who are close to the WFI President. If anything happens to any of us sitting here, only the WFI President will be responsible.”
The sports ministry has sought a response from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) “within the next 72 hours” after the allegations were made. The centre, in a statement, has made it clear that if the WFI does not respond in the next three days, the sports ministry “will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011.”
“Taking cognizance of the protest staged by wrestlers, including Olympic and CWG medalists, in Delhi today and a press conference in which wrestlers have levelled serious charges of sexual harassment of women wrestlers by the President and coaches of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and of mismanagement in the functioning of the federation, the Sports Ministry has sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made. In its communication to WFI, the Ministry has stated that “since the matter pertains to the well being of athletes, the Ministry has taken a very serious view of the matter.” the sports ministry said in the statement.
“The Ministry has further stated that if WFI fails to furnish the reply within the next 72 hours, the Ministry will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011.”
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