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Thursday, January 19, 2023 – Vinesh Phogat, India’s top women’s wrestler has alleged that Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has been sexually exploiting women wrestlers for many years.
Vinesh, who has been at loggerheads with WFI since the Tokyo Olympic Games, also claimed that several coaches at the national camp in Lucknow, have also exploited women wrestlers, adding that there are a few women at the camp who approach wrestlers at the behest of the WFI President.
The 28-year-old Olympian on Wednesday, January 18 clarified that she herself never faced such exploitation but claimed that “one victim” was present at the ‘dharna’ they began at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday.
Dharna in India is a mode of compelling payment or compliance, by sitting at the debtor’s or offender’s door until the demand is complied with
Vinesh says she was so disturbed that she along with Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia had even met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to complain about three months back.
“We had met the Home Minister and he had assured us that, ‘you will get justice’,” star wrestler Punia told PTI, adding that the ‘sit-in’ was their another attempt to highlight the prevailing issues in Indian wrestling.
Taking note of the allegations, the sports ministry says it will need an explanation from WFI and directed it to “furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made”.
The ministry said, “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.”
Due to the developments, the ministry has also cancelled the National camp, which was due to start SAI centre in in Lucknow from Wednesday.
Vinesh also claimed that she had received death threats at the behest of WFI President from officials close to him because she dared to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention to several issues plaguing Indian wrestling when she met him after the Tokyo Games.
“I know at least 10-20 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of (the) WFI President. They told me their stories. I can’t take their names now but I can definitely reveal the names if we get to meet the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country,” Vinesh said addressing the media after staging a four-hour dharna at Jantar Mantar.
“I have received death threats from people who are close to the WFI President. If anything happens to any of us sitting here, only the WFI President will be responsible.”
Sitting beside Vinesh, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia said the federation is being run in an arbitrary manner and they will not compete in any international competition unless the WFI President, who is no less than a “dictator”, is removed.
“Our fight is not against the government or the Sports Authority of India (SAI). This is against WFI. ‘Yeh ab aar paar ki ladai hai’ (It’s a fight to the finish). We will continue this protest until WFI President is removed,” Bajrang told PTI.
“We will not compete in any international competition until the WFI President is removed. This is a fight to save Indian wrestling. While we are denied help and support of foreign coaches, the President has hired a foreign coach for his own academy in Gonda,” Punia later said while addressing the media.
“He uses abusive language against wrestlers, we can even show you videos of that.”
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, 66, was elected President of WFI for a third consecutive term in February 2019.
In December 2021, the WFI President had slapped an overage wrestler during the under-15 national championship when he insisted on competing after being disqualified.
Denying the allegations, the 66-year-old WFI President said;
“There is no truth in any of the allegations. Why should I quit? Even if one woman wrestler comes and proves the sexual harassment charge, I am ready to be hanged. There is an industrialist behind it (conspiracy),”
“There can be an investigation by the CBI or police. There is no dictatorship. These same wrestlers had met me a week back and did not say anything,”
Responding to the allegation of death threats given to Vinesh on his behalf, Brij Bhushan said, “Why Vinesh did not talk to me or approached the police at that time? Why did she not meet the PM or the Sports Minister? Why is she saying this now.”
Watch the video below