Meeting of wrestlers with Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence continued for hours, but still ended on an undecisive note on Friday morning.
The sportspersons have alleged Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Chief Brij Bhushan Sharan of sexual misconduct and harassment, and thus have been demanding his resignation and action against him. The Sports Minister, however, has assured that the issue will be resolved soon. The Wrestling sportspersons–Sakshee Malikkh, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Ravi Dahiya and other wrestlers left Thakur’s residence after meeting him for three hours.
According to the sources, the meeting remained fruitful, but there were many points that remained undiscussed. Hence, the meeting will continue at the Sports minister’s residence this morning.
They met the minister in connection with their protest and allegations against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief. Thakur arrived at his Delhi residence from Chandigarh after many [protesting] wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat and Sakshee Mallikkh, levelled 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.
Earlier in the day, champion wrestler and BJP leader Babita Phogat arrived at the protest site at Jantar Mantar in Delhi where they continued their sit-in protest for the second day demanding action against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and other officials against alleged sexual exploitation of several athletes and “harassment of wrestlers by the WFI through its arbitrary rules and regulations”.
“I have assured them that the government is with them. I will try that their issues are resolved today,” Babita Phogat said after addressing the gathering.
Babita, who is a deputy director in the Haryana Sports and Youth Affairs Department, and a former wrestler had earlier tweeted, “I stand with all my fellow players in this matter of wrestling. I assure all of you that I will work to raise this issue with the government at every level, and the future will be decided the way players feel right.”
Vinesh Phogat had previously alleged that coaches who are favourites of the 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 Wednesday, taking cognizance of the protest staged by wrestlers, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games (CWG) medalists, 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 Ministry 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.
Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on Wednesday said that wrestlers, who made allegations of sexual harassment against coaches, should have approached the Federation with their names earlier.
The WFI president claimed that 97 per cent of wrestlers are with the BFI and those protesting were pressured into it. He denied any incident of sexual harassment.
“There has been no incident of sexual harassment. If such a thing has happened, then I will hang myself,” said the WFI president during a press conference.
He also said that he is ready for an 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,” he added.
To this, Bajrang Punia on Thursday said that the wrestlers have “proof” of the allegations levelled against the Wrestling Federation of India and its chief and demanded that the body should be dissolved.
“The WFI president stated that he will hang himself if the sexual harassment allegations are found to be true. Earlier there were just two girls who had come forward but now 5-6 girls have raised their voices and that too along with the proof. We are not making bogus claims,” Punia said.
“Our aim is to revive wrestling in India. If actions are not taken promptly we will take the help of the police and judiciary,” he added. Punia alleged that WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has influence not just in the organisation but in state wrestling associations as well.
“We want the Federation to be dissolved and not just the resignation of the WFI President as he will ensure that another close aide of his takes the seat and then act on his muse. This also holds true for state wrestling associations as the current WFI president has linkups there too. We want the WFI to be dissolved and that is our demand from the government,” the Arjuna awardee said.
Clarifying that the wrestlers are not staging the protest against the government, he said, “Our fight is with the WFI and not the government as they have always supported us be it either the Haryana government or the central government”.
Olympic medalist Sakshee Malikkh also voiced her concerns and said “only assurances have been given but no concrete actions have been confirmed”.
“We want a fresh start for the WFI and state associations. No satisfactory response has been received by us.”
Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Ravi Dahiya was also present at the protest. “We have not received any satisfactory response and are waiting for it. If we don’t get any concrete resolution we will take legal way,” he said.