Global wrestling governing body lifts India suspension, asks WFI not to discriminate against protesting wrestlers

The WFI has to provide written guarantees that all wrestlers will be considered for participation without any discrimination in all WFI events, including trials for the Olympic Games and other national and international events, says United World Wrestling

Updated - February 13, 2024 10:08 pm IST

Published - February 13, 2024 09:34 pm IST - New Delhi

Wrestling's world governing body has lifted the provisional suspension on India, but directed the national federation to provide written guarantees that there would be no discriminatory action against the protesting trio of Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik.

The suspension was imposed by United World Wrestling (UWW) on August 23 last year after the national federation failed to hold elections in time.

Also Read: Wrestling Federation of India timeline | From allegations, elections to suspension

“The UWW Bureau met on February 9 to review the suspension among other topics and considering all the elements and information, it decided to lift the suspension,” the world body said in a statement. “The WFI has to immediately provide UWW with written guarantees that all wrestlers will be considered for participation without any discrimination in all WFI events, in particular trials for the Olympic Games and any other major national and international events.”

“This non-discrimination includes the three athletes who protested against alleged wrongdoings by the former President (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh),” it asserted.

In the WFI elections held in December last year Sanjay Singh, a close aide of the former President, was elected the new head. The federation, however, was suspended within days of taking charge by the Sports Ministry which cited violation of the national sports code as the reason. The Indian Olympic Association then appointed an ad-hoc committee to run the sport.

The WFI rejected the Sports Ministry's decision and has been locked in a turf war with the ad-hoc committee. On Tuesday, it welcomed the UWW's decision.

"The ad-hoc committee holds no significance now as we have got UWW recognition. Since this is an Olympic year, we will be holding the trials soon and I am committed to ensure that none of the wrestlers' future is jeopardised," Sanjay Singh told PTI while responding to the development.

‘No grudge’ against the protesting trio

Another WFI source said that there would be no discrimination and Singh would soon be writing to the protesting trio to seek reconciliation. "We have no grudge against the three," he said.

The suspension had followed days of protest against the then WFI President for alleged acts of sexual harassment and corruption. The trio of Punia, Malik and Phogat had taken to the streets to lodge their protest and were often seen breaking down while pleading for action against Sharan Singh.

The trio had continued protesting even after a formal FIR was registered against him. The legal proceedings against him are ongoing at this point.

Malik, an Olympic bronze-medallist from the 2016 Games, had tearfully announced her retirement from the sport after the December elections, alleging that the new President was merely a figurehead. Punia (Tokyo Olympics bronze-winner), and Phogat (two-time world championship bronze-medallist) went on to return the national honours bestowed on them for their commendable achievements in global competitions.

The lifting of the ban means that Indian wrestlers will now be able to compete under the country's flag at the next UWW event. "The UWW Disciplinary Chamber (on August 23 last year) decided that it had sufficient grounds to impose the provisional suspension on the body as the situation in the federation prevailed for at least six months," the press release stated.

The world body also asked the WFI to re-convene the elections of its Athletes' Commission. "The candidates for this commission shall be active athletes or retired for no longer than four years. The voters shall be exclusively athletes," it ordered. "These elections shall take place during trials or any senior national championships where this operation can take place, but no later than July 1, 2024," it added.

The world body said it will remain in touch with the wrestlers and follow up with them on the developments in the coming days.

The country's wrestling fraternity endured quite a bit of confusion in the past few weeks when both the WFI and the ad-hoc committee held national championships. Phogat, who has been battling injury setbacks for several months, participated in the event organised by the ad-hoc committee in Jaipur and won a gold medal in the 55kg category.

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