Wed, 18 Jan 2023 10:35 PM IST
After women wrestlers alleged sexual harassment by coaches, the sports ministry has sought a response from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) "within the next 72 hours". Top wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia on Wednesday came together to protest against misconduct by the sports body's coaches and president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Vinesh Phogat, who was the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at Commonwealth and Asian Games, alleged sexual harassment of female wrestlers by national coaches over the years. She said that some were even given death threats by WFI officials. Several wrestlers stage a sit-in protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, where they called for the removal of the WFI president.
Responding to the allegations, the Centre said that if the WFI does not respond in the next three days, the sports ministry "will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011."
"Taking cognizance of the protest staged by wrestlers, including Olympic and CWG medalists, in Delhi today and a press conference in which wrestlers have levelled serious charges of sexual harassment of women wrestlers by the President and coaches of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and of mismanagement in the functioning of the federation, the Sports Ministry has sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made."
The sports ministry notice further stated that "since the matter pertains to the well being of athletes, the Ministry has taken a very serious view of the matter."
"The Ministry has further stated that if WFI fails to furnish the reply within the next 72 hours, the Ministry will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011."
'10-20 Accounts of Sexual Harassment'
Vinesh Phogat said that she knows about 10-20 accounts of sexual harassment that women wrestlers have faced and many coaches and referees are involved in these cases. "We will sit on protest until those guilty are not punished. No athlete will participate in any event," Phogat was quoted as saying by ANI.
Phogat later told the media that all the evidence will be presented when the high court will direct them. "We are also ready to submit all evidence to the Prime Minister," she added.
Bajrang Punia, the Olympic-winning wrestler said that the federation should be changed. "The girls here are from respectable families. If our sisters and daughters are not safe here then we cannot accept it. We demand that the federation be changed," said Punia.
Sakshi Malik also said that the whole federation should 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 will speak to Prime Minister and Home Minister and reveal details. The investigation must be done on some matters," said Sakshee.
Notably, Phogat on Wednesday alleged that coaches who are favourites of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) misbehave with women and harass them. She also accused the wrestling federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexually harassing girls.
She further alleged mental torture and said Singh called her a 'khota sikka' after her defeat at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. "The Federation mentally tortured me. I would entertain thoughts of ending my life every day. If anything happens to any wrestler, the WFI president will be to blame," she added.
The protesting wrestlers further accused the WFI of interfering with their personal lives and exploiting them. "When we went to the Olympics, we did not have physio or a coach. After we started raising our voices, we were threatened," added another wrestler.
WFI President Denies Charges
However, WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh denied any incident of sexual harassment and remarked that if such a thing has happened, he will hang himself. "There has been no incident of sexual harassment. If such a thing has happened, then I will hang myself," said the president during a press conference.
Asserting that he is ready to face investigation, Singh said, "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."
Meanwhile, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Assistant Secretary, Vinod Tomar on Wednesday said he was not aware what the wrestlers were protesting about. He added that once the wrestlers approach the Federation, all the issues will be resolved and sorted out.
"Do not 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," Tomar was quoted as saying by ANI.