In a shocking revelation, a crying Vinesh Phogat claimed that Wrestling Organization of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has been physically taking advantage of women wrestlers for a long time and looked for mediation of the Prime Minister and Home Minister for his dismissal.
Addressing the media on behalf of the women wrestlers allegedly exploited – the wrestlers staged a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi – Vinesh Phogat, the country’s only double World Championship medallist, said, “Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan. Some of the coaches appointed at national camps have been sexually harassing women wrestlers for years. The WFI president is also involved in sexual harassment.”
Sharing the dais with Vinesh and endorsing the allegations, India’s lone Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik said, “We have just come to save them. We are fighting for them. When the time comes, we will speak up. We will give the names of those who have been exploited to whoever is doing the probe.”
In reply to this WFI president has firmly denied all the allegations and said if proven guilty, he will hang himself. “Is there any person in front who can say that the Federation harassed any athlete… Did they have no problems with the Federation for the past ten years? Issues emerge when new rules and regulations are brought in…” Singh said.
“Sexual harassment is a big allegation. How can I take action when my name has been dragged into this? I am ready for an investigation,” he added.
Vinesh described the cunning ways in which women athletes were harassed by the WFI chief and the coaches “This exploitation is happening every day. Why does the camp happen in Lucknow? We have written to the PM and the Sports Minister … The reason it’s happening over there is because he has a house there and so it’s easy to exploit the girls. They trouble us too much. They get into our personal lives and relationships. They want to know everything,” she said
“They have become very powerful. I have spoken today and I don’t know if I will be alive tomorrow because of this. I know about 10-20 girls who have been exploited in the national camp over the past 10 years. Those girls are scared because of their family background. They can’t fight against them because they are not powerful. I can do it because I don’t mind if they stop me from wrestling. I have a house, I have food. I am here because I don’t want the future generations to go through this sadness and pain. We have only wrestling as our livelihood. They are taking away our livelihood. Our only option is to die, so might as well do good and die,” she said.
Many famous medal-winning athletes joined the protest alongside Vinesh, they are also protesting how WFI is being run. Many of them described it as a ‘Dictatorial way of handling’ Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, Olympian Anshu and world junior silver medallist Sonam Malik. Bajrang’s wife and national-ranked wrestler Sangeeta Phogat were also present at the protest.
Responding to the news, Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for women, gave a notification against Singh, requesting the Commissioner of Police andSports Secretary to probe and provide details of the matter.
While speaking to the press, Khel Ratna awardee Bajrang Punia said, “When we win medals for India everyone celebrates but after that nobody cares about how we are treated, especially by the federation. If we are promised by the PMO and the Home Minister’s office that our issues will be addressed, then we will stop our protest. Else we will continue protesting. Wrestlers can be treated as ghulams of the Wrestling Federation of India. Today we will talk about the rot in the federation and the tanashahi which has been happening for many years,”
Vinesh talked about the bad behaviours and Singh’s oppressiveness. “He mentally tortures me for everything. To get anything (permissions), we have to beg. The assistant secretary also. The kids are giving him gifts (cash, milk, ghee) to get their name into the national camp. Coaches too do the same to get into the national camp.”
She also revealed that the person who accompanied the women’s team in Tokyo had no idea about anything. “He had no idea of women’s wrestling. He went after paying money. It affected our medal chances as we didn’t have any physio at the Tokyo Olympics,” she said.