Wrestlers, including Olympians Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, on January 18 are holding a sit-in protest against the alleged arrogance of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) at Jantar Mantar.
The first Indian woman wrestler to win a gold medal at both the Asian and Commonwealth Games, Vinesh Phogat, alleged that coaches are harassing women. “Some coaches who are favourites of the federation misbehave with women coaches as well. They sexually harass girls. The WFI president has sexually harassed so many girls,” she told ANI.
The 28-year-old clarified that she herself has not faced such exploitation but claimed that she had received death threats at the behest of the WFI president from officials close to him because she dared to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention to several issues plaguing Indian wrestling when she met him after the Tokyo Games.
Responding to the allegations, Mr. Sharan Singh said there has been no incident of sexual harassment. “If such a thing has happened, then I will hang myself,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.
“Sexual harassment is a big allegation. How can I take action when my own name has been dragged into this? I am ready for an investigation,” he said, adding that he won’t quit.
He questioned why the protesting wrestlers did not have any problems with the Federation for the past ten years. “Issues emerge when new rules and regulations are brought in,” he said.
Wrestlers who are sitting on the protest have not contested any national tournament after the Olympics, Mr. Singh added.
The Federation required all wrestlers, regardless of their position, to appear in trials, which is said to be one of the reasons for the protest.
Echoing Phogat’s statement, 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Punia said, wrestlers are being harassed by the WFI through its “arbitrary rules and regulations”. Those who are a part of WFI know nothing about the sport.
“Wrestlers don’t want to tolerate the ongoing dictatorship,” Punia said. He urged that the management of the WFI be changed. “We hope the Prime Minister and Home Minister will support us,” he told ANI.
“After the Tokyo Olympics defeat, WFI president called me ‘ khota sikka’ [A Hindi phrase used to term someone as worthless]. WFI mentally tortured me. I used to think of ending my life each day. If anything happens to any wrestler, then the responsibility will on WFI president,” Phogat added.
Olympic wrestler Malik also demanded the whole Federation be removed so that the “future of new wrestlers is safe”. “A new federation should come into existence. Dirt has spread from the lower level. We’ll speak to PM & HM & reveal details. Investigation must be done on some matters,” she said.
Meanwhile, WFI Assistant Secretary, Vinod Tomar told ANI that once the ace wrestlers approach the Federation, all the issues will be resolved and sorted out.
“Don’t know what this is all about. However, we came to know from the letter to the WFI president that some wrestlers are sitting in protest. I have come to ask them about their problem,” Mr. Tomar told ANI. However, he claimed the protesting wrestlers still haven’t taken the Federation into confidence about their issues.
(With ANI/PTI inputs)