Wrestlers Call Off Protest; Federation Chief To Step Aside Till Probe Is Completed, Says Sports Minister Anurag Thakur
Top Indian wrestlers called off their protest following second round of meeting with union sports minister Anurag Thakur that ended after midnight on Saturday
After getting assurances that their grievances would be addressed, wrestlers called off their protest following the second round of meeting with union sports minister Anurag Thakur that ended after midnight on Saturday. The minister assured the wrestlers, which included big names like Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat, among others that investigation with regards to their allegations of sexual misconduct against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) coaches and president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh will be completed in four weeks. An oversight committee will be formed to investigate the allegations, Thakur added. WFI chief Brij Bhushan will step aside till the time the oversight committee completes its investigation.
"It has been decided that an oversight committee will be formed. Names for which will be announced tomorrow. The committee will complete its investigation within four weeks. The wrestlers put forward their demands. I have assured them that appropriate steps will be taken. All allegations of sexual harassment and financial misappropriation will be probed," Thakur said in a press conference on Saturday.
"Till the investigation is over, he (Singh) will step aside and co-operate with the investigation and the oversight committee will run the day-to-day affairs of WFI."
Wrestler Bajrang Punia, who has been a leading figure in the protest, thanked Thakur for his prompt response. "We have received assurances from the respected minister. I thank you. We protested only as a last resort. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has really helped our game," Punia said.
IOA forms probe panel too
Earlier, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) formed a seven-member committee to probe wrestlers' allegations of sexual harassment against federation president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Boxing great and Olympic medallist Mary Kom will be the chairman of the panel. Indian Weightlifting Federation of India (IWLF) president Sahdev Yadav, archer Dola Banerjee, Olympic medal winning wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt are part of the panel among others. The committee will also have two lawyers. The panel will first talk with the protesting wrestlers and then the WFI before reaching any conclusion.
Vinesh Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, on Wednesday had said that "national coaches molested female wrestlers over the years and were given death threats by WFI officials." She along with other top Indian wrestlers sat a massive protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from Wednesday where they called for the removal of the WFI president from the post.
Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, world championship medallist Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha, Amit Dhankar and CWG medallist Sumit Malik were among the wrestlers who assembled at the famous protest site.
"It's better to die once rather than slowly dying everyday. We are not able to sleep at night as we have no idea whether we are going to participate in the competition or not. Whether we will be going to the national camp or not. We doubt that these coaches and their supporters may spike our food and we may get positive during the doping test," Vinesh Phogat earlier told NDTV.
"So we are worried about all these things. As the president Brij Bhushan ji was saying that he is innocent, I am telling you that we have sent numerous mails to him but he never replied to any of them. Now do we have to go to his room for each and everything?"
Vinesh, a world championship medallist and Olympian, also claimed that several coaches at a national camp in Lucknow have exploited women wrestlers, adding that there are a few women at the camp who approach wrestlers at the behest of the WFI President.
"Some coaches are close to the national federations. Those coaches have exploited young girls. Don't know how many young girls have suffered due to them," Vinesh stated.
The 28-year-old though clarified that she herself has not faced such exploitation but 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.
"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 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 Punia told news agency PTI.
With PTI inputs