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World wrestling body backs protesting Indian wrestlers

DECCAN CHRONICLE | Sashidhar Adivi

Published on: June 2, 2023 | Updated on: June 2, 2023

Wrestlers protesting in New Delhi.

Hyderabad: The ongoing, month-long non-stop protests by Indian wrestlers demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (accused of sexual harassment by seven women wrestlers including a minor) has got a great boost. The United World Wrestling (UWW), the international governing body for amateur wrestling, has weighed in on the side of the protesters.

On Tuesday, the UWW expressed worry about the developments over the previous few days — referring to the arrest and temporary detention of the protestors for taking out a protest march. "UWW firmly condemns the treatment and detention of the wrestlers. It expresses its disappointment over the lack of results of the investigations so far. UWW urges the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations," the international body said in a statement.

The organisation also announced its intention of meeting the protesting Indian wrestlers "to inquire about their condition and safety and reconfirm our support for a fair and just resolution of their concerns."

The UWW reaction came hours after some of the biggest names in Indian wrestling, including 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, 2020 Tokyo medallist Bajrang Punia and World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat, announced that they would throw their ‘hard-earned medals’ into the Ganga to press their demand for Brij’s arrest.

In what may be described as a ‘final act of desperation’, the Olympic wrestlers reached the banks of the sacred river Ganga at Haridwar late on Tuesday to throw in their medals.

National shame

For millions of Indians, these athletes are inspiring magic-makers, the focus of national celebration. To see them going through such times is heart-breaking.
Former Olympian and World Boxing Champion Venkatesan Devarajan describes the present situation as a ‘national shame.’ By delaying action, the administrators and Federation are only making things look ugly, he says. "In India there’s no respect for athletes and Olympic winners. Anyone can become a politician or a doctor or an engineer, but how many people can become Olympic medal winners?" he asks. He points out that it’s because of the medal winners that sports is becoming popular in the country, especially in the North.

"Wrestlers are asking for justice. If the Federation can’t solve their problems, what’s the point in its existence? Will the police treat MS Dhoni like this? How many countries play cricket? Hardly 10. But how many countries compete in the Olympics? More than 200. So the Federation is only shaming itself by treating the wrestlers like this," Devarajan says, and blames lapses in sports policy for the situation.

Be patient

Former Indian netball captain, basketball player and actress Prachi Tehlan asks if throwing a medal into a river is worth it, given the years of hard work and practise that went into winning it in the first place. "It’s a medal I earned through several years of hard work. Why should I give it up easily when there’s no assurance of justice?" she asks.

She is of the view that justice takes time, and the law should be allowed to take its course. "I want the players to focus on the upcoming Olympics and bring more medals for the country. They need to start practising to boost their chances of winning," Prachi adds.

The Sports Minister Anurag Thakur too has appealed to the wrestlers to be patient and have faith in the Supreme Court, the Sports Ministry and the Delhi police.

Growing support

The Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) Athletes Commission, headed by boxing legend MC Mary Kom, has reportedly expressed solidarity with the athletes. The wrestlers are getting support from other fields also, including the film industry.

Kamal Haasan, Swara Bhasker, Pooja Bhatt, and Onir have come out in support of the wrestlers and asked the public to support the national sporting icons too.
Actor Adithya Menon said he was ashamed of the way the wrestlers’ issue is being handled. Pointing out that the government was happy when the wrestlers brought glory to the country, he said it was however not reacting when the wrestlers faced problems. Alleging that Prime Minister Modi was silent because the accused (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh) is from his own party, he charged that the system is corrupt. He also said the wrestlers trying to throw their medals in the river was a reflection of their loss of hope and faith.

Dangerous precedent

While it is true that the law must be allowed to take its course, and that no one can be convicted until proven guilty, the way the wrestlers are being treated is bound to impact aspiring athletes.

"It’ll dampen the spirits of the upcoming athletes for sure," comments former
IAS officer, sports administrator and sports reformer Paparao Biyyala, adding that it is setting a dangerous precedent.

"Which parent will send their daughter to tournaments, coaching camps and training sessions? Parents and female athletes will become increasingly vulnerable if this is not dealt with pertinently," he asks.