The suspended WFI had recently conducted their own Nationals in Pune, which the ministry went on to describe as an ‘unsanctioned event’.
Indian wrestlers will be deprived of raising their national flag and hearing their anthem in the upcoming World Championships. The reason? The United World Wrestling (UWW) has suspended India’s membership, a decision stemming from events that unfolded in June.
In June, UWW issued a stern statement, condemning the treatment and detention of protesting wrestlers in New Delhi, threatening suspension. This threat has now become a reality with the indefinite suspension of India’s membership.
Consequently, Indian wrestlers will participate as ‘neutral athletes’ in the upcoming Olympic-qualifying World Championships, scheduled to commence on September 16, 2023. Even if they secure victories, the national anthem will remain unsung.
UWW’s actions don’t stop there. They’ve also insisted on the appointment of an ad-hoc panel to oversee the elections of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), currently under the control of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Singh faces grave charges, including molestation and sexual harassment of wrestlers. The Delhi Police, in a chargesheet against Singh, asserts it possesses ample evidence to prosecute this high-profile BJP MP.
The turmoil within Indian wrestling has a history. In January 2023, a group of Olympians and international wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia, and others, staged a sit-in, demanding the disbanding of the federation due to alleged sexual harassment of female wrestlers by Brij Bhushan. Protests resumed in April 2023 due to government inaction, with protestors demanding the filing of an FIR against Brij Bhushan and his immediate arrest.
On April 28, 2023, only after Supreme Court intervention, did the Delhi Police register two FIRs against him, including one under the POCSO Act for offences against a minor.
Scheduled for June, the WFI elections faced multiple postponements due to widespread protests from various quarters, including wrestlers. A subsequent rescheduling for August 12 also fell through.
This is the third suspension of WFI’s membership. Previous suspensions occurred in January and May. These suspensions come after protests from top Indian wrestlers who were concerned about WFI’s functioning. They had made allegations of sexual harassment against its then-president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.