New Delhi: Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and other top Indian wrestlers who had sat in protest for three days called off their protest late on Friday after Sports Minister Anurag Thakur assured the government that their grievances would be addressed. The government’s move to pacify protesting wrestlers began with the removal of Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
The breakthrough was achieved during a marathon second round of talks with the Union Sports Minister as the government decided to set up an oversight committee that would investigate. Allegations of sexual harassment WFI President Women Wrestlers. The committee, whose members will be named on Saturday, will also oversee the day-to-day affairs of the federation.
It has been decided that a monitoring committee will be constituted and whose names will be announced tomorrow. The committee will complete its inquiry within 4 weeks and thoroughly investigate all the allegations leveled against the WFI and its chief: Union Sports Minister pic.twitter.com/lj7mvopveQ
— ANI (@ANI) January 20, 2023
Thakur announced that the committee will submit the report within a month.
“It has been decided that an oversight committee will be formed, the name of which will be announced tomorrow. The committee will complete the inquiry within four weeks. Allegations of financial or sexual harassment leveled against the WFI and its chief will be thoroughly investigated,” Thakur said after the nearly five-hour-long meeting.
“Until the inquiry is over, he (Singh) will step aside and cooperate with the inquiry and the monitoring committee will manage the day-to-day affairs of WFI,” Thakur added.
Speaking to the media, Bajrang Punia said they never wanted to take the protest route but were “pushed to limit”.
“The protest is over. We didn’t want to sit on dharna but ‘pani saar se opar chala gele tha’. The government has guaranteed us safety and security, even in the past we have been threatened by the WFI president,” said the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist, adding that 2023 was a crucial year for them with the Asian Games and Olympic qualifiers coming up.
Delhi The Union Sports Minister heard our demands and assured us that a proper investigation would be done. I thank him and we are hopeful that there will be a fair investigation, so we are withdrawing the protest: Wrestler Bajrang Punia pic.twitter.com/7cEBGIOwkJ
— ANI (@ANI) January 20, 2023
Neither the sports minister nor the wrestlers took questions from the media.
The wrestlers said earlier in the day that they would File multiple FIRs against the WFI chief, but ultimately did not.
It can be termed as a significant victory for the agitating wrestlers, who said they will continue their ‘dharna’ until the sacking of the WFI president and dissolution of the federation.
However, under the IOA constitution a National Sports Federation (NSF) cannot be dissolved unless it violates IOA rules and regulations, or is not recognized by the world governing body of the sport.
It must be noted that wrestlers have yet to provide strong evidence suggesting sexual harassment of female wrestlers.
Earlier in the day the wrestlers had approached the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) demanding a probe.
In their letter addressed to IOA president PT Usha, the wrestlers alleged financial misappropriation (of funds) on the part of the WFI and claimed that the national camp coaches and sports science staff were “absolutely incompetent”.
The wrestlers also reiterated their demand that the WFI be disbanded and its president sacked.
“A new committee should be constituted to run the affairs of the WFI in consultation with the wrestlers,” they wrote in their fourth and final demand.
In response to that, IOA was formed A committee of seven membersMC Mary Kom headed the investigation into the allegations.
The IOA panel includes wrestler Yogeshwar Dutta, archer Dola Banerjee and Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) president and IOA treasurer Sahadev Yadav.
The committee has two lawyers — Talish Roy and Shlok Chandra — who is its vice chairperson, besides former shuttler and IOA joint secretary Alkananda Ashok.
The decision was taken at an emergency executive council meeting of the IOA, which was attended by Olympic champion shooter Abhinav Bindra, Olympic bronze medalist Yogeshwar, IOA president PT Usha and joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey.
Most of the committee members are associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Shiv Kesvan, member of the IOA Athletes Commission, was the special invitee in the meeting.
IOA president Usha assured that a thorough inquiry would be conducted by the panel to ensure justice.
“A detailed discussion was held on the letters received from the athletes and all members, including special invitees, presented their views and suggestions,” the IOA said in a statement.
“It was unanimously agreed that the IOA must not be deprived of media trials. The EC further unanimously decided to constitute a committee as per the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women Act, 2013 to hear both sides and submit a report to the IOA President.
“The committee has been directed to meet as soon as possible.
“The EC appreciates the steps and initiatives taken by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs and is awaiting its report on the matter,” the country’s apex sports body added.
It is interesting that Yogeshwar is part of the committee as the protesting wrestlers claimed that he “sat on the WFI’s lap”.
WFI president cancels press meet
Earlier in the day at his UP base in Gondar, the WFI chief called the protest a “Shaheen Bagh dharna” and said he would not resign from the post.
“The wrestlers’ protest against me is the Shaheen Bagh dharna,” Singh, who is also a sixth-term Lok Sabha MP from UP’s Kaiserganj constituency, told reporters at his hometown.
WFI files reply to official notices
The government has given the WFI president 72 hours (until Saturday evening) to respond to the allegations.
The WFI submitted its reply to the ministry on Friday evening but Singh canceled his scheduled press conference. It was reported that he will speak to the media after the WFI Emergency Executive Council meeting on Sunday.
Wrestlers get support from boxer Vijender
Beijing Olympics bronze medalist boxer and Congress leader Vijender Singh also visited the protest site at Jantar Mantar in solidarity with the wrestlers.
Vinesh said on Thursday that more women wrestlers have come forward with their stories of sexual exploitation and they will file multiple FIRs against the WFI president.
With PTI input