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'Why is the women's wrestling camp always held in Lucknow, when most wrestlers are from UP and Haryana? The men's camp is in Sonipat. It's because he lives there and can harass women easily, as he can access the SAI centre easily.'
Grave allegations from India's greatest female wrestlers as Sakhi Malik, Vinesh Phogat are joined by 30-odd national and international-level grapplers, including Bajrang Punia, as they all take a stand against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and what they claim is decades of his sexual harassment of Indian wrestlers.
The Sports Ministry has since stepped in and given the federation 72 hours to reply to the allegations.
"The Sports Ministry has sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made. In its communication to WFI, the Ministry has stated that "since the matter pertains to the well being of athletes, the Ministry has taken a very serious view of the matter," said the statement shared Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Wrestlers Take a Stand
'His sexual harassment of the wrestlers happens on a daily basis. Since we have known the President, we have heard such stories. It has happened to 1-2 women who are sitting here as well,' says Vinesh as she helms almost an hour long press conference with the media in Delhi's Jantar Mantar where the wrestlers stand in protest, refusing to go home till action is not taken against Singh, who was elected unopposed to the position for a third straight term in February 2019.
While Vinesh clarified that she her herself had not faced any sexual harassment from the MP, she stated that 1-2 among the victims were part of the protest in Delhi.
"I know at least 10-20 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of (the) WFI President. They told me their stories. I can't take their names now but I can definitely reveal the names if we get to meet the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country," Vinesh added.
The star wrestler also claimed she had received death threats from associates of Brij Bhushan in the past.
"Many of you know how powerful he is, how many times he’s become an MP. He has money, he has a powerful position. We get threats for the smallest things, threats to get us killed. When time comes, I will take their names."
'Ready to be Hanged if Claims are True'
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh spoke out following the allegations made by the wrestlers, saying he was 'ready to be hanged' if proven guilty, also claiming there was third-party involvement.
"There is no truth in any of the allegations. Why should I quit? Even if one woman wrestler comes and proves the sexual harassment charge, I am ready to be hanged. There is an industrialist behind it (conspiracy)," said the 66-year-old.
The Wrestling Federation official also claimed the players were unhappy with him, following a recent change in selection criteria, and indicated that may be the reason for them to take a stand against him.
"Different states host Nationals and all want the country's best athletes to compete. None of these wrestlers has competed in the Nationals. We have made it clear that only those athletes who compete and win at the National Championship will be selected for the National camp," he was quoted as saying by PTI.
Sports Ministry Issues 72-Hour Notice
Hours after the press conference, the Sports Ministry sought an explanation from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) within the next 72 hours, failing which the Ministry "will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011".
"Taking cognizance of the protest staged by wrestlers, including Olympic and CWG medalists, in Delhi today and a press conference in which wrestlers have levelled serious charges of sexual harassment of women wrestlers by the President and coaches of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and of mismanagement in the functioning of the federation, the Sports Ministry has sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made," the sports ministry said in a statement.
"In its communication to WFI, the Ministry has stated that "since the matter pertains to the well being of athletes, the Ministry has taken a very serious view of the matter.
The Ministry has further stated that if WFI fails to furnish the reply within the next 72 hours, the Ministry will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011," it added.
Amid the protest, the ministry has also cancelled an upcoming wrestling camp for women wrestlers in Lucknow.
"Further, the Women National Wrestling Coaching camp, which was due to start in Sports Authority of India's National Centre of Excellence (NCOE) in Lucknow from January 18, 2023 with 41 wrestlers and 13 coaches and support staff, has been cancelled," it said.