Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Thursday said that all the issues raised by agitating wrestling athletes, protesting against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accusing him of sexual harassment and ‘dictatorship’, will be taken seriously.
“The safety of our women athletes is very important and we take it seriously. We will not let their morale down. All the issues raised by the athletes will be taken seriously,” Khattar said, as quoted by ANI.
Top wrestling champions of India, including Bajrang Punia, Sakshee Mallikkh, Vinesh Phogat, have been protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi for the second straight day, accusing the WFI of not treating players properly. The players demand that the WFI is disbanded and a new federation is brought into place.
On Wednesday, during a press conference at the protest site, a crying Phogat, in a startling revelation, alleged that WFI President has been sexually exploiting women wrestlers for many years, a charge that is being rejected by the 66-year-old sitting BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh.
Singh was elected unopposed President of WFI for a third consecutive term in February 2019.
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. The 28-year-old athlete said that she herself has never faced any exploitation, but “one victim” was present at the dharna. Phogat further alleged that she knew 10-20 wrestlers who have told her about the sexual exploitation faced at the hands of the WFI president Singh.
She also alleged that she received death threats at the behest of WFI President from some aides of 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.
Speaking to the press, Punia said that the protest was an attempt to highlight the prevailing issues in Indian wrestling. Punia on Wednesday 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 said. “We will not compete in any international competition until the WFI President is removed. This is a fight to save Indian wrestling,” he added.
Meanwhile, refuting the charges, Singh said he won’t quit from his post. He 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,” the WFI president said, as quoted by PTI.
Responding to the death threats allegations by Vinesh, he 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.”
The WFI president indicated that the new policy and the rules they have introduced are perhaps causing a bit of discomfort to the wrestlers and that is the reason why athletes were protesting.