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Explained: WFI President Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan controversy

In a shocking turn of events, several senior Indian wrestlers have entered into a bout with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

Vinesh Phogat alleged that the president had sexually exploited and harassed women wrestlers over a period of years.

Vinesh, who has been at loggerheads with the WFI since the Tokyo Olympics, made a startling revelation and also confirmed that it was not her, but one of her colleagues who was exploited.

The wrestlers also staged a dharna in protest against the WFI and its president Brij Bhusan in Delhi.

Since then, Brij Bhusan also made a statement and refuted the claims made by the wrestlers.

Here is the entire explanation of the fiasco and a timeline of the events so far –

What is the entire fiasco?

Veteran Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat on Wednesday, 18 January 2023 alleged that WFI President Brij Bhushan has been involved since many years in sexually exploiting women wrestlers.

Vinesh further claimed that several coaches at the national camp in Lucknow have also exploited women wrestlers.

Several wrestlers also staged a four-hour-long dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday. Vinesh made a shocking revelation that she was never harassed or exploited, but one of the victims of harassment was present at the dharna.

The 28-year-old also claimed that she had received death threats from officials close to President Brij Bhushan after she shared issues around wrestling in India with PM Narendra Modi after the Tokyo Olympics.

Bajrang Punia termed President Brij Bhushan a ‘dictator’ and also claimed that the WFI has been run in an arbitrary manner.

Some of the notable Indian wrestlers and Olympic as well as CWG medal winners were present at the dharna.

Sakshi Malik, Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Satyawart Malik, Jitendra Kinha, Amit Dhankar, and Sumit Malik were among the 30 wrestlers present at the protest besides Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia.

Who is WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh?

Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan, 66, is the president of the WFI since 2011. He was elected for a third consecutive term in February 2019.

He is a politician, currently with the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), and is serving as a Member of Parliament from Kaiserganj.

He was associated with the Samajwadi Party up to 2014.

What did the wrestlers say about the issues they have been facing?

Here are quotes from the wrestlers –

Vinesh Phogat (In a media interaction): 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.

I have received death threats from people who are close to the WFI President. If anything happens to any of us sitting here, only the WFI President will be responsible.

I am being tortured every day. We could not muster the courage. Now we were not left with any option. ‘Ab paani sar se paar ho raha hai’ (the limit has been reached).

Bajrang Punia (to PTI): Our fight is not against the government or the Sports Authority of India (SAI). This is against WFI. ‘Yeh ab aar paar ki ladai hai’ (It’s a fight to the finish). We will continue this protest until WFI President is removed.

(In a media interaction) We will not compete in any international competition until the WFI President is removed. This is a fight to save Indian wrestling. While we are denied help and support of foreign coaches, the President has hired a foreign coach for his own academy in Gonda.”

We have to think about the next generation of players as well. We are approaching the end of our careers. For how long will we play? 2024, 2026 or maybe 2028 but it is a question of the entire wrestling fraternity.

Divya Karan (through a video): Since morning, a lot of allegations are being made against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Saran Singh. No one is questioning those who are levelling these baseless allegations. When old allegations are not working, the accusers are in search of new allegations against Sharan.

Since 2013, when I was 14, I have been going to camp and I attend it even now. Till day, he has done nothing wrong with me, or any woman for that matter. Wrestlers from Haryana and U.P. are supported well by them and he makes sure that they are not discriminated against.

Divya however deleted here post subsequently.

What did WFI President Brij Bhushan say in his defense?

President Brij Bhushan came out in his defense after alleged with multiple complaints and stated all those as fake.

“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),” the 66-year-old WFI President said at a media interaction.

“There can be an investigation by the CBI or police. There is no dictatorship. These same wrestlers had met me a week back and did not say anything.”

Answering Vinesh’s death threat claims, he said, “Why Vinesh did not talk to me or approached the police at that time? Why did she not meet the PM or the Sports Minister? Why is she saying this now?” PTI reported.

The WFI chief said that the new policies around competition in National Championships are causing trouble to the wrestlers and that is the reason behind the protest.

“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.

Brij Bhushan also told PTI that some of the wrestlers were pressured to sit on dharna. “97 percent of players are with the WFI. I am hurt by the sexual harassment allegations. Not a single player can bring such charges against me or the chief coach. Some wrestlers were pressured to sit on a dharna.”

He also responded to Vinesh’s claims against the coaches in a conversation with the ANI. “A few days ago, in a meeting, Vinesh (Phogat) demanded that the chief coach be changed. A coach can’t be changed on the whims and fancies of one player. We have to think about players from other states as well. They should have come with names of the coaches, who they claimed are involved in sexual harassment.”

India Today also reported that Brij Bhushan called Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur to clarify on the allegations made against him.

How will the Wrestling Federation of India proceed further on the issues?

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Assistant Secretary, Vinod Tomar said that he was not aware of the issues and only got to know about it through a letter to the WFI President.

“Do not know what this is all about. However, we came to know from the letter to the WFI president that some wrestlers are sitting in protest. I have come to ask them about their problem,” Tomar was quoted by ANI.

“They have not yet told me what their grouse is. No issue has been raised with me or the Federation as yet.”

Tomar said that once the wrestlers approach the WFI officially, issues will be resolved.

“Alternatively, wrestlers can also report such instances to SAI, but we have spoken with SAI and confirmed they haven’t received such complaints either. We can only clarify our further plan of action only after the meeting on 22 January,” Tomar was subsequently quoted by The Quint.

How has the Sports Ministry reported to the allegations?

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) stated that they have taken cognizance of the events and have asked the WFI to issue an explanation within 72 hours.

The MYAS statement as quoted by Quint mentioned, “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.”

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