Wrestlers demand WFI president ouster in letter to PT Usha after her call to raise concerns

 Senior wrestlers wrote to Indian Olympic Association President PT Usha after her statement asking athletes to come forward.

BySreerag PS

Published Jan 20, 2023 | 7:49 PMUpdated Jan 21, 2023 | 4:27 PM

Wrestlers demand WFI president ouster in letter to PT Usha after her call to raise concerns

Agitating wrestlers on Friday reached out to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) demanding the formation of an enquiry committee to probe the allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

This came Hours after the statement from IOA President PT Usha urging athletes to come forward and raise their concerns.

In the letter addressed, the wrestlers also alleged misappropriation of funds on the part of the WFI.

They also claimed that the coaches and sports science staff at the national camp were “absolutely incompetent”.

Since Wednesday, senior Indian wrestlers — including Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat — have been agitating at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding the ouster of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

The senior athletes accuse Singh of sexual exploitation and intimidation.

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Senior wrestlers write to PT Usha

“On behalf of all wrestlers in the country, we would like to bring to your notice some very serious complaints of sexual harassment against WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. These complaints have been informed to us by several young wrestlers,” read the senior wrestlers’ letter addressed to Usha.

The athletes primarily made four demands before the IOA. “We request the IOA to immediately appoint a committee to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment,” they started off.

The wrestlers also reiterated their demand that the WFI be disbanded and its president be sacked.

“A new committee should be formed to run the affairs of WFI in consultation with the wrestlers,” they wrote in their fourth and last demand.

The letter was signed by five wrestlers: Tokyo Olympics medallists Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia, Rio Games bronze winner Sakshi Malik and World Championship medallists Vinesh Phogat and Deepak Punia.

The athletes also pleaded, “It has taken a lot of courage for us wrestlers to come together and protest against the WFI President. We fear for our lives. If he is not sacked then the careers of all the young who joined the dharna will be over.”

They ended the letter by writing: “We will not budge until the WFI president is sacked.”

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Statement by PT Usha

On Thursday, Usha said she was “deeply concerned and disturbed” by the sexual harassment allegations against Singh, and that the national Olympic body would do everything possible to safeguard the interest of the country’s women athletes.

“As a woman and former athlete and presently a sports administrator, I am deeply concerned and disturbed by the latest developments in Indian wrestling, where a section of the athletes has brought serious allegations against a senior official of the sport,” Usha said in a statement issued by the IOA.

She added that she had full faith in the Central government, and urged all the national sports federations to cooperate in this matter.

“…As the IOA president, I sincerely hope the athletes, under no circumstances, are denied their rights,” she said in her statement.

Congress questions government

Ace boxer Vijender Singh, who won the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics and is now a Congress leader, also reached the protest site at Jantar Mantar, showing solidarity with the wrestlers, and questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue.

Vijender Singh, along with Commonwealth Games gold medalist Krishna Poonia and Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, attended a press conference by the party and questioned the Union government on its lack of action to the demands of the wrestlers.

On Thursday, the athletes met government officials during the day and later had a dinner meeting with Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence after being called for discussion on the raging issue.

However, both meetings remained inconclusive with the wrestlers adamant that WFI be dissolved immediately while the government requested them to end their protest.

Vinesh Phogat on Thursday said more woman wrestlers had come forward with their stories of sexual exploitation and would file multiple FIRs against the WFI president.

The government has given Singh time till Saturday evening to respond to the allegations.

Meanwhile, Singh told reporters in UP that he would not resign because his position was not at someone’s mercy.

(With inputs from PTI)