After No Govt Action, Wrestlers to Lodge FIRs Against WFI Chief Over Alleged Sexual Harassment

They have alleged that the mistreatment of wrestlers at the federation has been going on for years, and demanded that a new federation should come into existence for the safety of sportspersons.

New Delhi: The country’s top wrestlers on Thursday, January 19, vowed to intensify their protest, saying the government has given them an assurance but no “satisfactory response” and they will lodge multiple first information reports against Wrestling Federation of India president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, if the WFI is not disbanded immediately.

Singh is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh.

The wrestlers, who have accused the WFI President of sexual exploitation and intimidation, continued their dharna for the second day at Jantar Mantar as more people joined them in what they called was a fight to give “a new life to Indian wrestling”.

On January 18, top Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Anshu Malik, Bajrang Punia, among others, accused the BJP MP of sexual harassment and physical abuse. Singh has denied the allegations and told ANI that if such a thing has indeed happened, he will “hang” himself.

They alleged that the mistreatment of wrestlers at the federation has been going on for years, and demanded that a new federation should come into existence for the safety of sportspersons.

“Wrestlers are being harassed by the Wrestling Federation of India. Those who are a part of WFI know nothing about the sport,” Punia, who has won an Olympic Bronze, said on Wednesday.

According to PTI, three-time Commonwealth Games medallist and BJP leader Babita Phogat came to the protest site with a “message” from the government and assured the sportspersons that their demands will be met as the athletes took turn to share their bad experiences.

Twenty-one-year-old Anshu Malik narrated how the WFI president’s presence in the players’ hotel in Bulgaria during the world junior championship last year made the women wrestlers uncomfortable.

“WFI president stayed on the same floor and across the room from the junior girls at the Junior World Championships. He would leave his door open. Every girl was made uncomfortable,” she told Sportstar.

“We want the federation removed,” she added.

According to the news agency, a team of wrestlers, including Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Anshu, Sakshi Malik, and her husband Satyawrat Kadiyan, was called for a meeting with the government as they discussed their issues with sports secretary, Sujata Chaturvedi, director general of Sports Authority of India, Sandip Pradhan, and joint secretary (sports), Kunal.

During the one-hour meeting, the wrestlers were asked to end their protest and assured that their grievances will be addressed.

However, the sportspersons wanted a concrete and immediate action and decided to continue their protest unless the WFI president is removed and the national federation is disbanded along with all the state wrestling associations in the country.

Vinesh Phogat did not disclose what transpired at the meeting but said that they didn’t get a satisfactory response.

“Yesterday, we had one to two victims amongst us but now we have five to six wrestlers, who were harassed (sexually). We can’t name them now, after all they are the daughters and sisters of somebody. But if we are forced to disclose their identity, it will be a black day,” she said.

“We are World Championship and Olympic medallists, don’t suspect us, we are telling the truth, believe us,” she added.

Phogat, who has been at loggerheads with the WFI since the Tokyo Olympic Games, also claimed that several coaches at the national camp in Lucknow exploited women wrestlers, adding that there are a few women at the camp who approached the wrestlers at the behest of the WFI president.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Thursday said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should break his “silence” on the allegations of sexual harassment against the BJP MP and asked why the resignations of those involved have not come in till now.

Congress’s media department head Pawan Khera said that sports minister Anurag Thakur should speak out on this matter. “The prime minister should speak out, there should be resignations, and heads should roll immediately. This should have happened long back, 24 hours is too long a time. The silence is more shocking than what has happened,” he said at a press conference at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi.

“Our players are the pride of the country. They bring laurels to the country by their performance at the world level,” Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra said in a tweet in Hindi. The players have made serious allegations of exploitation against the WFI and its president and their voices should be heard, she said.

“Kuldeep Sengar, Chinmayanand, father-son duo Vinod Arya and Pulkit Arya… and now this new case! The list of BJP leaders committing atrocities against women is endless,” tweeted Jairam Ramesh, Congress’ general secretary in-charge communications.

“Mr. Prime Minister, why are all those who oppress women members of BJP? Yesterday you said that a better environment has been created for sports in the past 8 years. Is this the ‘better environment’, in which even our daughters who bring laurels to the country are unsafe?” he added.

Singh, 66, was elected unopposed as president of the WFI for a third consecutive term in February 2019.

Taking note of the allegations, the sports ministry has sought an explanation from WFI, PTI said.