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Sports & Sexual Harassment: A Look at Past Complaints Against Men in Power

Between 2010 and 2020, the SAI recorded 45 complaints of sexual harassment, as per RTI data.

Updated
Sports
3 min read

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Video Producer: Mayank Chawla

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

The Indian wrestling arena has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh – with prominent grapplers, including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik, gathering at Delhi's Jantar Mantar in protest.

Singh and coaches employed by the WFI have been accused of mental torture and sexual misconduct by several women wrestlers.

While Bhushan, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP, has denied all claims, he has been given 72 hours by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to send a formal reply to the complaint.

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The recent wave of complaints only goes to show how money, opportunity, and gender power imbalance determine the coach-sportsperson relationship – with the former acting without impunity and the latter forced into silence for years.

Between 2010 and 2020, the SAI recorded 45 complaints of sexual harassment. As many as 29 of these were filed against coaches, according to data from an RTI.

The Quint looks at recent cases of sexual harassment involving women athletes and men in power, highlighting this cycle of abuse.

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1. Cyclist Accused Chief Coach of Harassment

In May 2022, Indian national team's cycling coach RK Sharma allegedly forced himself into the room of a senior woman cyclist, offering her a "post-training" massage and stating that he "wants her to be his wife," the cyclist said in her complaint emailed to the SAI.

The incident occurred during the national team's camp in Slovenia.

After the incident was reported, another cyclist accused Sharma and his assistant of inappropriate behaviour.

Acting on a preliminary report of an inquiry committee, the SAI terminated Sharma's contract in June 2022. The committee had found the allegations against him were true.

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2. Allegations Against Haryana Sports Minister

The Chandigarh Police, on 1 January 2023, filed a sexual harassment and criminal intimidation case against Haryana Sports Minister and BJP leader Sandeep Singh, based on a complaint by a junior athletics coach.

Singh then handed over his portfolio to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on "moral grounds," though he dismissed the allegations as baseless.

The woman claimed that when she met Singh at his residence-cum-camp office to show some documents, he sexually harassed her.

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3. TN Sports Coach Sexually Abused Athletes for Years

In May 2021, P Nagarajan, a renowned sports coach at the St Joseph's Prime Sports Academy in Chennai, was arrested after a national-level athlete filed a complaint of sexual abuse, improper behaviour, and misconduct against him.

Later, several other women athletes also came forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Nagarajan over a period of time. They alleged that he even threatened to stop their training and end their careers.

The complainants trained under him as junior athletes, and some of them were abused when they were minors.

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4. 'Sexual Misconduct' by Former Footballer 

Former footballer Alex Ambrose was accused of sexual misconduct in September 2022, when he was the assistant coach of the national under-17 women's football team.

The 39-year-old was sent back from the Indian under-17 women's team's preparatory tour to Italy and Norway after a player complained against him.

"An event of misconduct has been reported in the U17 women's team currently on an exposure tour to Europe. As an initial action, the Federation has provisionally suspended the individual pending further investigation," All India Football Federation had said in a statement, without mentioning Ambrose's name.

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5. Boxing Coach Accused of Sexual Assault

A boxing coach was arrested in March 2020 for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old athlete when they were in West Bengal for a tournament.

The woman, who was representing Haryana in the tournament, lodged a police complaint against the 28-year-old coach, stating he sexually assaulted her in a train when the team was travelling to WB, and also during their stay in Kolkata.

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