Wrestlers stick to their guns

Vinayak Padmadeo

New Delhi, April 24

The Sports Ministry has woken up from its slumber and declared the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections null and void, even as the protesting wrestlers upped the ante against Delhi Police for not filing an FIR over sexual harassment allegations against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

The Sports Ministry has asked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to constitute an ad-hoc body to run the day-to-day affairs of WFI and conduct elections for its executive body. Earlier, WFI had announced that the elections would be held on May 7.

Several top wrestlers — including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik — said they have petitioned the Supreme Court to make Delhi Police file an FIR against Singh for sexually harassing female wrestlers.

In a statement, the Sports Ministry said that the Oversight Committee’s report is still under evaluation. However, its preliminary scrutiny showed that WFI did not have a valid Internal Complaints Committee, and that there was a need for more transparency and consultation between the wrestlers and WFI officials, the statement added.

Singh said he would abide by the Sports Ministry’s decision. “I have no objection if the IOA holds the election,” he told The Tribune.

IOA president PT Usha said they would take up this matter urgently. “Our scheduled EC meet on 27 April will discuss amp; provide actionable solutions to the current impasse in WFI. IOA is committed to the betterment of our sportspersons amp; its sporting ecosystem,” Usha wrote on Twitter.

Sticking it out

The wrestlers are sticking to their guns, insisting that these ‘pacifying tactics’ will not work this time.

SAI’s deputy director general Shiv Sharma had discussions with the wrestlers for an hour but failed to persuade them to end the protest.

“We will not fall for these tactics anymore. We erred the last time when we called off the protest after they decided to appoint the Oversight Committee to run WFI, but Brij Bhushan Sharan was still running it. The WFI office was still open. We will not fall for the trap this time,” Vinesh said.

“We are not here to become the PM or fight elections to become something. Our fight is that an FIR has to be lodged against Brij Bhushan Sharan over sexual harassment allegations,” she added. “He should be arrested and it should be investigated. The highest court of the country should give justice to us.”

BJP defending Singh?

The protesting wrestlers took a dig at the ruling BJP party when they were asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Sports Minister Anurag Thakur have not reacted to their protest. “This question will be answered best by the government. Athletes who win get all the accolades from them, but now when we are sitting on the roads, why are you not reacting?” Bajrang said. “The Oversight Committee has not told us even today whether they have submitted the report. There was no lawyer present when Brij Bhushan had deposed before them… And for us, we were told about all the rules, and that everything inside the room was confidential. The rules are only for us athletes, and not him!”

Vinesh said Singh was being backed by the government. “We are not from any party, we are not from Haryana, we are India’s athletes,” she said. “But yes, he is from BJP, so we think he is getting the benefit because of that. He is a BJP MP. We do not know whether he has applied pressure on the government or vice-versa, but he has a lot of money. We have nothing but we will fight with all our might for justice.”

All are welcome

The wrestlers requested women’s rights organisations, farmer unions and khap panchayats to join their protest. This is in stark contrast to the last protest in January, when many individuals such as CPM’s Brinda Karat and Congress’ Vijendra Singh were stopped from joining their dharna.

“Some people gave us wrong advice the last time and it hurt us. Our khap panchayats came to support us, other known names also came but we stopped them from joining us,” said Sakshi. “Now we request everyone to come and support us. Even political parties are welcome.”

“We are requesting all national and international players from all sports to support us. Female organisations, kisan unions, panchayats and khaps… We want their support for this fight because if we fail, the people who are doing such shameful acts behind the curtains will commit these offences in broad daylight,” Bajrang said.

The Oversight Committee has been biased against us from the start. They tried to protect Brij Bhushan Sharan from the first day and today they have taken a decision. We have been trying to know about the report (by the committee) for the last two months but no one took our calls. Now that they know that we have filed a complaint with the police and are going to SC, they released it under pressure. They should have done it earlier.

Babita Phogat is probably more interested in being with her political party (BJP) rather than wrestlers. — Vinesh Phogat

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