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In All-Girls Akhada, Wrestlers Reflect on WFI Turmoil and Role Models Quitting

Amid WFI instability in the last one year, there have been no competitions and no new admissions at this academy.

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On January 18, 2023, wrestlers began a protest at Jantar Mantar, accusing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan of sexual exploitation and intimidation. They demanded his resignation and the dissolution of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

On 21 December, 2023, Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik quit wrestling as Sanjay Singh, close aide to Brij Bhushan took over as the new chief of WFI. The next day, Bajrang Punia returned his Padma Shri in protest against Sanjay Singh's election.

Eventually, the Sports Ministry suspended WFI till further orders after the newly-elected body made a 'hasty announcement' of organising the pending 2023 U-15 and U-20 nationals.

Amid all this, young wrestlers' future is stuck in a limbo. Newcomers and all those who have been training throughout last year didn't get a chance to perform at all due to the instability in the WFI.

I have been training since early 2023 because it was my last chance to participate in the junior nationals. I trained hard but the competition got cancelled.
Ashu, 20, Jhajjar, Wrestling for over a year
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We train hard and achieve the weight goal required for competitions After that we are told that the competition has been cancelled. It hurts.
Ruby, 15, Rohtak, Wrestling for over 4 years

On our visit to Yudhvir Akhada, young wrestlers shared struggles amid WFI instability and seeing their role models dragged on the street or worse, quitting.

Over 60 girls stay at this residential academy. In the last one year, there has been no new admissions in the academy.

After this controversy, nobody wants to get into wresting, parents aren’t in favour of it either. They believe there’s no future in wrestling anymore. Wrestling has been hugely impacted. The newcomers have not been able to perform.
Shiksha, 17, Wresting for over 7 years

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports suspended the recently elected Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) governing council, led by Sanjay Singh, due to the hasty announcement of the Under-15 (U-15) and Under-20 (U-20) National Championships.

No Competitions, No Medals & Future in a Limbo

Many young wrestlers leave their studies when they join an academy, and the medals won at these competitions make these wrestlers eligible for a job.

We left studies and gave our all to wrestling. It’s scary to think about our future right now. Kids from middle-class families will not suffer as much. But those from economically weaker background won't be able to afford the fees of the academy. They might have to quit wrestling.
Ruby, 15, Rohtak, Wrestling for over 4 years
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How do these young wrestlers keep going, knowing that their role models are caught in a battle?

Kangna, an 11-year-old from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, learned about Sakshi Malik quitting from girls who do not reside at the academy but come from nearby areas for training.

I heard about the protests from some girls here. If I had any idea, I'd have gone with the seniors and stood up for the protesting wrestlers.
Kangna, 11, Himachal Pradesh

Like most wrestling academies, mobile phones are not allowed at Yudhvir Akhada. However, many girls at the academy were aware of the protests, accusations against Brij Bhushan (former WFI president), the newly elected president's close association with Brij Bhushan, and Sakshi's resignation as a consequence.

My father is constantly worried. What if something happens in the future, when I join camps. There is a constant fear.
Ashu, 20, Jhajjar, Wrestling for over a year

Ashu almost quit wrestling after numerous competitions were canceled in 2023. She even left the academy and returned home for a month.

I didn't practice for a month. But then my family encouraged me to work harder and keep the faith. All the hard work won’t go waste. It may take time, but you’ll get what you deserve
Ashu, 20, Jhajjar, Wrestling for over a year
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Young wrestlers are hopeful, putting their dreams on hold but not giving up

With the hope that the issues will be resolved soon and competitions will be held this year, these young girls continue their training every day.

Like Kangna, many have left home to fulfill their dreams and those of their families. They aspire to reach the Olympics, and for them, there is no turning back now.

I will never quit wrestling. Whoever has wronged others, will get punished. This is my life. May God never take wrestling away from me and I continue to do well in studies and in wrestling.
Kangna, 11, Himachal Pradesh

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  wrestler   Wrestlers   Vinesh Phogat 

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