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'Harassment, Hypocrisy': Why Do Sportspersons Have to Fight for Their Rights?

Various instances of sports stars having to fight for their rights show the indifference of people in power.

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English Script: Akanksha Pandey

Video Editors: Rajbir Singh, Prajjwal Kumar

Some of the biggest wrestlers in the country are protesting against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh since 18 January 2023 in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, over sexual harassment accusations against Bhushan. Behind the popular film dialogues and politicians' praises celebrating the players, the sad reality is that India's decorated sports stars have to still fight for their rights.

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India's politicians and people in positions of power are quick to claim credit and publicly celebrate the players that win the country accolades. However, when it comes to addressing their concerns, there is often little to no action, unless there is media uproar.

India's prominent wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik have accused the president of WFI and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and WFI coaches of sexually harassing, mentally torturing and threatening women wrestlers for years. The wrestlers are demanding Brij Bhushan's resignation, as well as the disbanding of the WFI.

There have been countless incidents where popular sportspersons were treated with disrespect and had to fight for basic rights.

'Negligence, Sexual Harassment, Unemployment'

In September 2022, women Kabaddi players were served food prepared inside a toilet in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur. After the video of the incident went viral, Saharanpur's sports officer was suspended.

Kabaddi players in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, could not attend the district trials because they were not informed by the selectors. After training for nearly 10 years, for some, this was their last chance of playing in these trials, due to the age eligibility. When asked, the selectors had said that they could not inform the players because they were on duty at a carnival.

In a country that celebrates Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the winners of Blind T20 World Cup are reportedly unemployed. Despite winning the T20 World Cup thrice, the team captain Ajay Kumar Reddy has been desperately asking the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for financial assistance. Naresh Tumda, a player in the team, was forced to work as a labourer.

India's hockey star and ex-Haryana sports minister, Sandeep Singh was accused of sexual harassment by a junior athletics coach. He was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). He denied all allegations but stepped down as minister on 'moral ground'.

A senior cyclist had accused the Indian national team's cycling coach, RK Sharma of harassment and inappropriate behaviour, in May 2022, during a camp in Slovenia. The coach allegedly asked to share a room with the female cyclist and then forcefully entered her room. Later, another player had also accused Sharma and his assistant of inappropriate behaviour. Finding the allegations to be true, acting on a preliminary report of an inquiry committee, the Sports Authority of India had terminated Sharma's contract in June 2022.

Football player Sangeeta Soren was spotted working at a brick kiln, while strength lifting gold medallist Sunita Devi was forced to work as a domestic help in several houses.

Many sportspersons have been forced to work as tea-sellers, farmers and in parking lots, despite winning accolades for the country.

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