New Delhi (PTI) Vinesh Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Asian Games, on Wednesday alleged that Wresting Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has been sexually exploiting women wrestlers for many years, a charge vehemently rejected by the sports administrator and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP.
Ms Phogat, 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 clarified that she herself had never faced such exploitation but claimed that “one victim” was present at the ‘dharna’ they began at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday.
“As many as 10-20 women wrestlers have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of (the) WFI president. 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,” Ms Phogat said after staging a four-hour dharna at Jantar Mantar.
Coaches are harassing women, and some coaches who are favourite of the federation misbehave with women coaches as well. They sexually harass girls. The WFI president has sexually harassed so many girls: Wrestler Vinesh Phogat pic.twitter.com/AqUetaXsGa
— ANI (@ANI) January 18, 2023
Phogat, a world championship medallist and Olympian, also sought the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s removal.
Ms Phogat also claimed that she had received death threats at the behest of the 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.
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: Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, President, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) pic.twitter.com/m5EntTcwW4
— ANI (@ANI) January 18, 2023
“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,” she said.
Rio Olympics 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 30 wrestlers who assembled at the protest site.
Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia said the federation is being run in an arbitrary manner and they will not take part 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. This is against WFI. It’s a fight to the finish. We will continue this protest until the WFI president is removed,” he said.
“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,” Mr Punia said. “He uses abusive language against wrestlers. We can even show you videos of that,” he said.
The sitting BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh rejected all the charges against him and refused to quit his post. “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),” said the 66-year-old.
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’s why the protest.