Coming down heavily on the aggrieved wrestlers, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President PT Usha on April 27 said the grapplers lacked discipline as they hit the streets to resume their protest against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh instead of approaching them.
Decorated wrestlers Bajrang Punia and two others are the three central characters in the renewed protests against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president, who has been accused of sexual harassment and intimidation by the grapplers.
The IOA is yet to complete its probe into the allegations while the government-formed oversight panel’s findings have not been made public as yet.
Frustrated with the three-month-long wait, the peeved wrestlers returned to Jantar Mantar to resume their agitation on April 23, and also approached the Supreme Court, demanding arrest of the WFI boss.
It is clear that the IOA has not liked the wrestlers’ move.
“Our feeling is that for sexual harassment complaints, IOA has a committee and athletes’ commission. Instead of going to the street (again), they should have come to us, but they have not at all come to IOA,” Ms. Usha told reporters after the sports body’s executive committee meeting.
Asked if the IOA would reach out to the wrestlers since they are adamant that they would not leave the protest site until their demands are met, Ms. Usha shot back by saying, “Thoda toh discipline hona chahiye (there should be some discipline). Instead of coming to us they have gone straight to the streets. It’s not good for sport.”
Mr. Chaubey said, “IOA President Dr. PT Usha would like to say that this kind of agitation is not good for the country’s image. India has a good reputation globally. This negative publicity is not good for the country.” “We want to be with not just the wrestlers but with every athlete who has represented India, but under the rules and the law of the country.”
In a press release, Ms. Usha added, “They are sitting on a dharna and asking all political parties to join them, and that is what disappoints me.” Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia said IOA President’s statement is “shocking”.
“She herself was an athlete and she is also a woman. We did not expect this harsh reaction from her, we expected support,” a flustered Mr. Bajrang told PTI.
“If IOA thinks wrestlers demanding justice is tarnishing the image of the country, what was that when she broke down and explained her plight after being harassed by a few goons at her academy. What had happened then,” asked Mr. Bajrang.
The top wrestler was referring to Ms. Usha breaking down during a press conference in February this year when she spoke about harassment at her academy in Balussery, Kerala.
When Mr. Chaubey was asked if the wrestlers should have waited for the completion of the probe before hitting the streets, he said, “These are serious allegations, we can’t take a decision in haste. If we can have a little bit of patience and see what is coming out from these committees, then we will be able to comment, but right now, we just discussed day-to-day administration of WFI.”
The IOA Joint Secretary also confirmed that several witnesses are yet to appear before the panel.
“The investigation is still going on. We are told that the committee has a list of witnesses and the committee will invite them and they will face the commission,” Mr. Chaubey said.
Mr. Chaubey said the IOA, as instructed by the Sports Ministry, has formed a three-member ad-hoc panel to manage the affairs of the WFI and also conduct fresh polls within 45 days of the formation of the committee.
“Bhupendra Singh Bajwa will represent IOA executive council in the ad-hoc panel while Suma Shirur is a woman athlete and also a SOM (Sportsperson of Merit). They will be in charge of WFI’s day-to-day activities.”
“We have also discussed (names) of judges and one of the retired high court judge will join these two members and it will become a three-member committee. The high court judge will guide the committee on legal things,” he added.
When reminded that the IOA constitution does not permit an ad-hoc panel running a national sports federation (NSF), Mr. Chaubey said, “There are exceptions in the world. If IOA intervention can help a sport or sportsperson, that will be in interest of India as a nation.”
The Supreme Court will hear the matter on April 28. The Delhi Police had told the Supreme Court that the matter requires a preliminary enquiry before they could proceed with the filing of an FIR against Brij Bhushan.