Sport

RTI Exposes Rampant Sexual Harassment of Women Sportspersons at SAI Centres

In many cases, the accused coaches have been released with punishments ranging from transfers to a small cut in their pay or pension, while in others the investigations are still pending.

New Delhi: Delhi Police on Wednesday registered an FIR against a coach for allegedly molesting a female cricketer in Nizamuddin. However, this seems to be only the tip of the iceberg in what is a deep-rooted and widespread system of harassing women sportspersons.

Following Wednesday’s police action, the Bhartiya Janta Party MP from East Delhi Gautam Gambhir had claimed on Twitter that the girl had sought his help and thanked union home minister Amit Shah for the quick response, said reports.

“Few days ago, a girl reached out to me that her cricket coach was sexually harassing her. He is now behind bars & the girl is being counselled to overcome the ordeal. Thank Hon’ble HM @AmitShah ji & @DelhiPolice for quick response! We should have NO tolerance for such monsters!” Gambhir posted on Twitter. He appears to have now deleted the tweet.

Although an FIR might have been registered in this matter, data obtained by an RTI filed by The Indian Express to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) reveals that out of the 45 sexual harassment complaints registered in the last decade, 29 are against the coaches.

In its report last February, a parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women suggested that “the number could be higher as, many times, cases against coaches also might have gone unreported.”

The details of the registered cases are shocking. In many cases, the accused coaches have been released with punishments ranging from transfers to a small cut in their pay or pension, while in others the investigations are still pending.

As per the information, in 2013, two girls from SAI’s Gandhinagar centre had alleged that their coach sexually harassed them and later blackmailed them by claiming to have their videos. They even wrote letters to then Union Minister of State (Sports and Youth Affairs) Jitendra Singh and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

“The girls, in their letter, wrote that the coach invited them to join him in his car and please him. In return, he promised to take them to Sri Lanka for a competition. Else, he threatened to destroy their careers,” said a SAI official.

After an inquiry was ordered, the coach was transferred to SAI’s Sonepat centre in December 2013.

Also read: Gender Equality in Sport Is the New Final Frontier for Women

In January 2014, five minor girls at SAI training centre in Hisar accused their coach of groping and kissing them while celebrating ‘world kiss day’. They filed a police complaint but later withdrew it when the village panchayat intervened.

Three years later, the coach was punished by a SAI sexual harassment committee with a 10% cut in his pension for one year.

In a similar instance, a few female students at the Lakshmibai Institute of Physical Education in Thiruvananthapuram had accused their teacher of misbehaviour in 2015. However, no action was taken against him and he continues to be in charge even today.

According to SAI officials, shortage of women trainers and nexus between the coaches and SAI officials are the prime reasons behind the insensitivity towards the sexual harassment complaints.

“If you take action, then you find there isn’t anyone to replace him. Hence, they are either transferred or let off with some other minor sanction, like a pay cut,” said an official at SAI. “And since most of the coaches are well connected within SAI, there is seldom any strict action taken against them,” the official added.

Responding to the inaction, SAI’s former director-general, Jiji Thomson, said the athletes under pressure withdraw their complaints or change their statements, making it difficult for them to pursue any action.

“Most of these girls come from humble backgrounds. So they are persuaded or pressurised to change their statement or take back their complaints,” said Thomson.

“The girls give in to the fact that their future in sports, which for many is a way out of poverty, is in the hands of the coaches. So they often give up,” he added.

Sexual harassment cases have been reported at SAI training centres in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Aurangabad, Daman & Diu, Patiala, Eluru, Kashipur, Cuttack, Kozhikode, Bhopal and Mayiladuthurai.