IOA President PT Usha on Thursday slammed wrestlers for protesting on streets and went on saying that it amounts to indiscipline and tarnishes India's image.
Coming down heavily on protesting wrestlers, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President PT Usha on Thursday, 27 April, courted controversy when she said that the agitation amounted to “indiscipline” and was “tarnishing the country’s image”.
“The wrestlers staging protests on the streets amounts to indiscipline. It is tarnishing the image of India,” Usha told reporters after the IOA’s Executive Committee meeting.
Led by Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, the protesting wrestlers, who expected support from Usha, were taken aback by her response, and said that they were “hurt”.
In their second round of protests at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar after the initial one in January, the wrestlers continued the sit-in agitation for the fourth day demanding police action against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment and criminal intimidation allegations.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police on Wednesday said in the Supreme Court it felt that “some preliminary enquiry” may be needed before registering an FIR against the WFI president.
However, it added that it could file an FIR if the apex court desired it.
Four-time Asian Games gold medallist PT Usha also said that the protesting wrestlers should have reported the matter to the IOA’s sexual harassment committee instead of taking to the streets.
“The IOA has a committee for sexual harassment complaints. Instead of taking to the streets and doing all those things (protests), they could have come to us earlier. But they did not,” she said.
The IOA has already constituted a three-member ad hoc committee to oversee the day-to-day operations of the WFI and conduct elections to its new executive council in 45 days.
The committee includes Wushu Association of India President Bhupendra Singh Bajwa, Olympian and shooting coach Suma Shirur, and a retired high court judge who is expected to be named in the coming days.
About the current status of the IOA-formed committee’s probe into the sexual harassment allegations against Singh, IOA joint secretary and All India Football Federation President Kalyan Chaubey said: “That investigation is going on.”
He added: “We have been told the committee has got a list of witnesses and will ask them to come and face it.”
Asked about Usha’s comments, 2020 Tokyo Olympics medallist and stalwart grappler Bajrang Punia said, “We were not expecting this from PT Usha ma’am. We thought she would stand with her fellow athletes. She is a woman. So, we expected her to stand with us. I’m hurt by her harsh words.”
Noting that Usha had recently tweeted that there were some people trying to occupy the land of her academy (the Usha School of Athletics in Balussery in Kerala) and resorting to hooliganism, the Haryana grappler remarked, “Was the country’s image not being tarnished at that time? That was also a matter pertaining to an international athlete. We were also sad to hear of the academy incident.”
He continued: “She is such a big athlete, and now a Rajya Sabha member. But even then this was happening to her. If such things can happen to a parliamentarian, what about ordinary athletes like us? What power do we have?”
He also said: “When players don’t get justice, what do you expect them to do? Only she can tell what pressure she is under, because of which she had to lash out at other women athletes speaking up.”
The 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist Sakshi Malik said that despite repeated attempts, the wrestlers have been unable to get the police and the IOA to take action.
“I respect PT Usha. She has inspired us. But I want to point out that women wrestlers have come forward and raised the issue of harassment. Can’t we protest as well?” Malik said.
“When we gave our statements to the IOA committee, its members cried as well. They assured us that action would be taken. No action has been taken,” he added.
World Championship medallist Vinesh said that Usha contacted none of the wrestlers about their well-being.
“When Olympic medallists from the nation are sitting on the streets in protest, I think PT Usha ma’am should have come to us. She should have asked us why we were in tears,” she added
Noting that as citizens of a democratic nation, it is the right of wrestlers to protest, Vinesh added, “Hum road pe nahin hain. Hum apne desh ki zameen pe hain. Yeh hamaara adhikaar hai (We’re not on the streets. We are on the land of our country. This is our right). Until we get justice, we’ll stay here.”
Usha’s comments evoked sharp criticism from several people on social media as well.
That’s how childhood heroes lose respect. https://t.co/0MnsU2LRyU
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) April 27, 2023
The Delhi cops intervened 24 hours after the Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud remarked that the allegations were “serious” as seven women wrestlers urgently moved the apex court.
“We feel this needs some preliminary inquiry. But if this court orders, then yes, an FIR can be registered,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Delhi Police, submitted in court.
Meanwhile, representing the women wrestlers, senior advocate Kapil Sibal pointed out in court that police officers who refused to register an FIR should also be prosecuted.
“An FIR is not being registered because the accused is a Member of Parliament of the ruling party… The last of the complaints is by a minor. The girl was 16 at the time. The accused is the president of the Wrestling Federation of India… Even the police officers can be prosecuted for not registering an offence of this nature,” Sibal submitted in court.
The court has now posted the matter to 28 April.