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Sports Ministry demands explanation from WFI over sexual harassment charges of women wrestlers
New Delhi: Taking cognizance of the protest staged by wrestlers, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games (CWG) medalists, in Delhi in which women wrestlers have levelled serious charges of sexual harassment 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.
In its communication to WFI, the Ministry has 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.
Further, the Women National Wrestling Coaching camp, which was due to start in Sports Authority of India's National Centre of Excellence (NCOE) in Lucknow on January 18, 2023, with 41 wrestlers and 13 coaches and support staff, has been cancelled.
The Executive Director of NCOE Lucknow has been directed to provide all facilities to national campers who have already reported and are likely to report, till the campers depart from the centre. Necessary information regarding the cancellation of the National Coaching Camp has also been sent to all campers.
Notably, Vinesh 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 and calling her a 'khota sikka' after her defeat at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
On the sidelines of a sit-in protest against the WFI near Delhi's Jantar Mantar, Phogat said, "Coaches are harassing women and some coaches, who are favourites of the Federation, misbehave with women coaches as well. They sexually harass girls. The WFI president has sexually harassed many girls."
"After my defeat in the Tokyo Olympics, the WFI president called me a 'khota sikka'. 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.
Olympians Bajrang Punia, Sakshee Malikkh and Phogat led the protest at Jantar Mantar against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), alleging "harassment of wrestlers by the WFI through its arbitrary rules and regulations".
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.
Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia said the wrestlers want the management of the Federation to be sacked and replaced.
"We hope Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and Home Minister (Amit Shah) will support us in our quest," added Punia.
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.
He also said that he is ready for investigation.
"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," said Brij Bhushan.
A 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Bajrang Punia said the wrestlers will not tolerate the ongoing dictatorship of the Federation.
"We would not tolerate the ongoing dictatorship," Bajrang told ANI.
The first Indian woman wrestler to win a gold medal at both the Asian and Commonwealth Games, Vinesh Phogat, expressed her displeasure with the Federation's management on Twitter and other wrestlers including Bajrang and Sakshee also took to Twitter to raise their voices against governing body of the sport in the country.
"The players want self-respect as they prepare for the Olympics and other big events with full vigour. However, if the federation does not support them, their morale breaks down. But we won't bog down anymore and will fight for our rights," she wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Assistant Secretary, Vinod Tomar on Wednesday said he was not aware of what ace wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshee Malikkh, Bajrang Punia and others 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 told ANI.
Tomar stated that once the wrestlers formally approach the Federation, all issues will be sorted out.
However, he claimed the protesting wrestlers still haven't taken the Federation into confidence about their issues.
"They have not yet told me what their grouse is. No issue has been raised with me or the Federation as yet," he added. (ANI)