Act on Sexual Abuse Complaints by Wrestlers, Global Sports and Rights Body Urges Indian Govt

Sports and Rights Alliance, a global collective of NGOs and trade unions, called on the International Olympic Committee to exert pressure on India to fully investigate accusations against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

New Delhi: Sports and Rights Alliance, a global collective of NGOs and trade unions working for human rights, has called upon the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to exert pressure on India to act against the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is accused of sexual abuse by Indian athletes.

“Indian officials might stoutly claim to defend the rights of women and girls, but when it has been put to test by the country’s foremost athletes, the authorities have resorted to victim blaming and shaming,” said Joanna Maranhão, network coordinator of the Sport and Rights Alliance, in a statement published on its website.

Lauding athletes for their “courage”, Maranhão, added, “It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse. We stand with the athletes and encourage the IOC to protect them, especially in this deeply power-imbalanced situation. Their wellbeing should be the top priority.”

The IOC had already, in a statement on May 30, called for an “unbiased, criminal investigation in line with local law” against Singh. However, Sports and Rights Alliance said the “Indian authorities have been reluctant to act, only initiating a police investigation after the complainants filed a petition in the Supreme Court“.

The latest on the issue is that Union sports minister, Anurag Thakur, had met protesting wrestlers on Wednesday, June 7, and assured them that the investigation against Singh would conclude by June 15 with chargesheets filed. He had promised them that a new WFI chief would be elected by June 30. The wrestlers have now suspended their protests until June 15 and warned the government that they would resume their protests if their demands are not met.

The wrestlers had put forth five demands before Thakur. According to NDTV, these include free and fair elections to the WFI and the appointment of a woman chief. Singh, the accused in serious allegations of sexual harassment, or his family members, could not be part of the WFI, the wrestlers had told Thakur.

Against this backdrop, the Sports and Rights Alliance appealed to IOC to call on the Indian government to inform it of progress in the investigation, and to ensure that it is “credible and timebound”.

Referring to multiple failed promises on the part of the government – the constitution of independent inquiry without making its report public and the failure to act against the accused even after assurances – the Alliance said, “The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is neither independent nor a credible body to carry out an investigation.”

The Alliance statement also quoted Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, who also appealed to the IOC to exert pressure on the Indian government.

“In the face of a faltering Indian justice process, the IOC should publicly call on the BJP government to stop suppressing protesters to protect its party member, the Wrestling Federation of India president,” she said. “The IOC has made safeguarding athletes a priority and it should use its leverage and stand with athletes seeking to protect children from abuse in sport.”

The Alliance also urged the IOC to ensure that any bid from India to host the Olympics is contingent on significant human rights improvements, not least for the safety and freedom of the country’s own athletes. India wants to host the 2036 Olympics, and will also host the 2030 Summer Youth Olympics in Mumbai. Towards this end, India will host an IOC session in Mumbai this October.

The Sport and Rights Alliance is a global coalition of leading NGOs and trade unions working together “to embed human rights and anti-corruption across world sport”. It serves as a “force multiplier” for civil society groups and trade unions working to promote the rights of everyone affected by sport, including children, women, activists, journalists, LGBTI+ people, fans, athletes, and workers. Towards this end, it engages directly with IOC, FIFA, among other global sports bodies.