Action sought as India’s top woman wrestler says top official harassed her
Top wrestlers on Friday wrote to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President PT Usha about sexual harassment allegations against the Wrestling Federation of India and its chief Brij Bhushan Saran Singh.
The development comes after Vinesh Phogat – one of India’s most decorated women wrestlers including three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games – accused her federation chief and several coaches of sexually harassing multiple athletes.
Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia in their letter mentioned that Olympian Phogat was “mentally harassed and tortured” by the WFI president after she missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo that led her to almost contemplate suicide.
They requested the IOA president to appoint a committee to enquire into sexual harassment complaints against Singh and said the WFI was involved in financial misappropriation regarding contract payments for wrestlers.
Phogat made the allegations at a public protest in New Delhi on Wednesday, backed by several other top wrestlers, male and female. Singh — who is also an MP for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — and trainers were culpable, she told reporters.
“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president,” she told reporters. “I know at least 10-20 girls in the national camp who have come and told me their stories.”
The allegations come months after the coach of the country’s national cycling team was sacked following sexual harassment charges.
India is a deeply hierarchical society and Phogat said many wrestlers were intimidated from coming forward because of their humble origins. “They are scared because of their family background. They can’t fight them because they are powerful.”
“Wrestling is our only livelihood and they are not letting us do it. Our only option is to die. So might as well do good before dying,” she added.
Fellow wrestler and Olympic bronze medallist Malik, who was also part of the protest, endorsed the allegations. “Athletes work hard to win medals for the country, but the federation has done nothing but let us down,” she tweeted.
According to local media reports, Singh denied the allegations, saying he was “ready to be hanged” if even a single woman wrestler proved the sexual harassment charge.
India’s sports ministry has asked the federation to respond to the allegations within 72 hours, reports said.
Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Punia, who is male and also joined the protest, accused Singh of running the federation in a high-handed manner. “The job of the federation is to support the players, take care of their sporting needs. If there is a problem, it has to be solved,” he tweeted.
“But what if the federation itself creates the problem? Now we have to fight, we will not back down.”