While the government has been basking in the glory of Khelo India, a national programme for development of sports to achieve the twin objectives of mass participation and promotion of excellence in sports, an ugly bout is being played out by the Wrestling Federation of India. In the eye of the storm is none other than WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who also happens to be the ruling party MP.
It’s too serious an issue because Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Commonwealth Games medallist Vinesh Phogat have alleged that the powerful WFI boss and some other coaches have been sexually harassing many young women athletes at the camps. Wrestling is a sport that has been bringing the maximum number of medals for the nation at global competitions. Incidents like these can perpetually shatter the dreams of young aspiring women athletes who harbour hopes of winning medals for the country.
Hundreds of budding wrestlers led by sports veterans had held a protest at Jantar Mantar in the national capital Delhi demanding action against the MP, who has been the federation chief for three consecutive terms. The veteran wrestlers had been lending support to their younger counterparts who were too scared to take on the powerful lobby.
The sad truth is in the past too, there have been allegations against coaches and those in authority. Recently, Haryana minister Sandeep Singh had to resign as sports minister after sexual harassment allegations were levelled by a junior female coach. He has been divested of the charge of sports ministry but ironically he continues to be a minister holding the Printing and Stationery portfolio. Last year, a cyclist had alleged that the IOA treasurer wanted her to share his room and she left the foreign camp.
The Indian Olympic Association, with whom WFI is affiliated, has constituted a panel to probe the allegations after wrestlers sent a letter to its president and began a sit in dharna. The matter needs to be handled with sensitivity ensuring that the aspiring women athletes who have already suffered, must not be subjected to invasions of privacy. After digging his heels in and saying he won’t step down, the WFI President has finally stepped down and relinquished the presidency of the Federation.
However, this is not enough to stem the rot in sports administration. Indian sports also need more women in positions of authority, as coaches and and heads of sports associations, to instil more confidence among budding female athletes and their parents. What can be more scary than custodians turning into perpetrators of crime as heinous as sexual exploitation! Sexual exploitation deals a psychological blow that leaves the victims scarred forever. It’s a sad commentary on the state of sports. It’s time all stakeholders come out and join hands to rid the system of this malice. The allegations call for a police investigation. Zero tolerance should be the norm for such transgressions. No initiative like the well-conceived Khelo India will really succeed till the system is reformed.