WFI chief, grapplers in no-holds barred bout as sport takes a beating

While the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and some of the country’s top grapplers continue to spar with each other over sexual harassment charges, the ongoing episode has left an adverse impact on the sporting activities, reports Rajesh Moudgil

A group of country’s top wrestlers including Olympians Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat have been holding a protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar since April 23 demanding sacking of WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and his arrest on the charges of sexual harassment levelled by several women grapplers.

The Delhi police have registered two cases on April 28 against him on the basis of the wrestlers’ allegations. Singh is a six-time MP (five-time from BJP and once, Samajwadi Party) from Gonda seat in Uttar Pradesh.

The wrestlers have also demanded that the government makes public the findings of WFI’s oversight panel and a lie-detector narco-analysis test under the supervision of Supreme Court on Singh as well as the complainants, including a minor, who also alleged sexual harassment by him. This demand came after a Delhi court sought to know the status report from Delhi police in the two cases following which the protesting wrestlers demanded it in the wake of Singh and his supporters repeatedly terming their allegations as false and calling the complainants “liars’’. Whosoever is found guilty, hang them, Sakshi had stated.

While the protest has seen a few tense movements between the police personnel deployed there and the protesters, it has been gaining from Khaps (village bodies), farmers and political parties.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, representatives of Meham Chaubisi, one of the biggest Khaps of Haryana – Punia, Sakshi and Vinesh hail from Haryana – and Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s Baldev Singh Sirsa have said that it had been decided that every Khap would come to the protest site every day, stay there and return by the evening.

They held that it had also been decided that while the protesters would take care of their protest, the farmers’ fora would hold a meeting on May 21 and decide their future course of action if the government fails to resolve the issue by then.

The Delhi police has thus heightened the security arrangements and deployment including Rapid Action Force (RAF) and CRPF as well as women security personnel around the protest site.

Wait for probe report: WFI Chief

The WFI chief, Singh, on the other hand, has urged the farmer leaders not to make any “mistake’’ in hurry and instead wait till the findings of the probe into the allegations against him levelled by a group of wrestlers, came out.

Reiterating that he was innocent and would readily face any punishment in the case if any of the allegations against him was proven, Singh held that he was targeted as he had brought much-needed reforms in the selection process for the wrestlers.

He went on to say that he had been saying right from day one that he would hang himself if any of the charges levelled against him was proven and that he would himself come to their Khaps after the probe is over, and in case he would be found guilty, they could beat him with shoes to death. Stating that if there was a character assassination of a self-respecting person, then he himself died and that was what was happening.

Political overtones

Meanwhile, the issue further snowballed with a large number of leaders from opposition parties visiting the protesting grapplers at Jantar Mantar.

While Haryana Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son Haryana Deepender Singh Hooda – the latter reportedly had also been keen for the coveted post of WFI chief – was among the first to visit them.

The political support to the protesters widened after April 28 with leaders of several opposition parties including Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal expressing solidarity with them.

Beside AAP supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, his Cabinet ministers Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj also met the protesting wrestlers and tore into Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They assured the protesters that they would fight alongside them. Other senior leaders supporting and visiting them included Priyanka Gandhi, former Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik and CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat.

Meanwhile, Haryana Congress Legislature Party (CLP) has also recently decided that all the party legislators would be visiting the protesters and demand Singh’s arrest.

Pertinently, the wrestlers have had support from Haryana BJP leaders as well. While senior BJP leader and former Union minister Birender Singh, said that the charges levelled by the wrestlers were of serious nature, Haryana home minister Anil Vij has held that he supported the wrestlers and that he would speak to the high-ups in the government if needed.

Hisar BJP MP Brijendra Singh, who is son of party senior leader Birender Singh, has also spoken in support of the wrestlers.
Only politics unfolding: Khali

Meanwhile, the WWE fame wrestler “The Great Khali’’ aka Dalip Singh Rana has also claimed that only politics was unfolding at the sit-in site of the wrestlers in Delhi. Stating that the wrestlers were being used, he said that the medals came only with practice not by sitting on dharna. He further held that the police and the court were doing their work and that the matter was being investigated.

Adverse impact on sport

Meanwhile, the ongoing stand-off was having an adverse impact on the grapplers’ training and preparations for upcoming Asian Games.

According to media reports, several wrestlers who are not protesting and are instead keen on their training, have demanded of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) that it open its centres and resume their training. While the men’s national camp for freestyle and Greco Roman wrestlers is held at SAI centre at Sonepat (Haryana), the women’s camp is organised at Lucknow (UP). There are more than 300 wrestlers in different categories at Sonepat and over 100 women wrestlers at Lucknow centre.

Demanding the beginning of the national camp, several wrestlers rued the absence of training partners whereas the Asian Games and World Championship events are not far off.

Veteran sports journalist Saurabh Duggal also opines that while there should be a fair investigation into the matter, the need is also to have the resumption of training camps. Significantly, he adds, such incidents also leave an adverse impact on the image of the sports across the country, especially in the minds of young upcoming women players.

“In India, women’s participation is already less as compared to men, and with the incidents of sexual harassment coming up in Indian sports will further create a hindrance for the young girls to pursue sports’’, added Saurabh, who has extensively covered sports, including wrestling events of national and international import, including Olympics, and has also authored “Akhada”, an authorised biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat, father of famed Phogat sisters.