New Delhi: Top Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Anshu Malik and Bajrang Punia are among a group of sportspersons who have accused Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Kaiserganj, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, of sexual harassment and physical abuse.
Singh is president of the Wrestling Federation of India. He has denied the allegations and told ANI that if such a thing has indeed happened, he will “hang” himself. In 2021, Singh had been caught on video slapping a wrestler at the Under-15 Nationals in Ranchi.
The wrestlers, who sat in an unprecedented protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, pointed to Singh’s alleged “dictatorship” in running the federation, noting that mistreatment of wrestlers had been going on for years. Among the 30 gathered were also Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha, and Commonwealth Games medallist Sumit Malik, according to India Today.
“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president,” Vinesh Phogat said, stressing that the WFI president is also involved in the sexual harassment of “so many girls.”
Some coaches who the federation considers “favourites” misbehave with women coaches too, Vinesh said.
“Today I have said this, I don’t know if I will be alive tomorrow. People in WFI are very powerful,” Vinesh was quoted by Indian Express as having said.
Part of Haryana’s Phogat wrestling family, Vinesh is the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both Commonwealth and Asian Games. She has multiple golds from the World Wrestling Championships. Vinesh’s cousin, wrestler Babita Phogat and her uncle, Mahavir Phogat, had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2020.
Coaches are harassing women, and some coaches who are favourite of the federation misbehave with women coaches as well. They sexually harass girls. The WFI president has sexually harassed so many girls: Wrestler Vinesh Phogat pic.twitter.com/AqUetaXsGa
— ANI (@ANI) January 18, 2023
Vinesh reportedly said that she had been trying to get the federation to listen to her concerns for a decade now. She told ANI that she and other wrestlers are ready to “submit evidence” to the prime minister and any high court that might ask for it.
खिलाड़ी आत्मसम्मान चाहता है और पूरी शिद्दत के साथ ओलंपिक और बड़े खेलो के लिए तैयारी करता है लेकिन अगर फेडरेशन उसका साथ ना दे मनोबल टूट जाता है।लेकिन अब हम नही झुकेंगे।अपने अधिकारों के लिए लड़ेंगे।#BoycottWFIPresident#BoycottWrestlingPresident@PMOIndia @narendramodi @AmitShah
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) January 18, 2023
“This is not fair and we have been silently tolerating this. But not anymore,” Bajrang Punia, who has won Olympic Bronze, told Indian Express.
Punia also added that wrestlers have taken care not to involve politicians in their protest, but told the news agency PTI that while their grouse was not against a political outfit or the Sports Authority of India, this was going to be a “fight to the finish.”
“Wrestlers are being harassed by the Wrestling Federation of India. Those who are a part of WFI know nothing about the sport,” Punia told reporters as well.
Wrestler Sakshi Malik, also an Olympic medalist and related to the Phogats, said that the wrestlers are ready to “speak to the prime minister and home minister to reveal details.”
“Whole federation should be removed so that the future of new wrestlers is safe. A new federation should come into existence,” she said.
MP Singh has responded to the allegations by asking Vinesh Phogat why she wore “a costume with a company’s logo on it” at the Olympics.
“Is there any person in front who can say that the Federation harassed any athlete?” he asked news agency ANI. He also said that there has been “no incident of sexual harassment” and that he would hang himself if such a thing has happened.
I want to ask Vinesh Phogat, why did she wear a costume with a company's logo on it in the Olympics? After she lost the match, I only encouraged & motivated her: Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, President, Wrestling Federation of India pic.twitter.com/WDrsh2y3yK
— ANI (@ANI) January 18, 2023