Indian wrestling: Sports Ministry, Olympic Association to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against top official

Indian wrestling: Sports Ministry, Olympic Association to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against top official

New Delhi

India’s sports ministry said on Friday it would investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

Sports Minister Anurag Thakur announced the formation of an oversight committee to look into the demands after a meeting with several senior wrestlers who demanded an inquiry.

The wrestlers have been protesting for the past three days in the Indian capital New Delhi and have called for the dismissal of WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and dissolution of the WFI.

WFI has denied all the allegations.

Olympic wrestler Vinesh Phogat and four others have said they are speaking on behalf of the accusers to protect their identities and have not released details of the young wrestlers’ allegations.

Sports Minister Thakur said at a joint press conference with the wrestlers in the capital New Delhi that the “serious allegations, be it allegations of financial irregularities or allegations of sexual harassment, will be investigated”.

“The committee will see all the day-to-day work till the investigation is completed and till then Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh will step aside and cooperate with the investigation,” the minister added.

Thakur’s announcement came after a second round of talks between the minister and wrestlers.

The committee has four weeks to complete the inquiry, Thakur said.

He added that the names of the oversight committee will be announced on Saturday.

Welcoming the announcement, Olympic wrestler Bajrang Punia, who attended the meeting, said, “The Union Sports Minister listened to our demands and has assured us that a proper investigation will be done. I thank him and we hope that a fair investigation will be done and therefore we cancel the protest.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) will also set up a seven-member panel to investigate the allegations against Singh, according to CNN affiliate CNN News on 18.

“We will ensure a full investigation to ensure justice,” IOA president PT Usha tweeted Friday, encouraging athletes to come forward and voice their concerns.

Top India wrestlers led a sit-in protest near the Parliament building on Thursday.

Several Indian wrestlers had written to the IOA demanding the formation of an inquiry committee to investigate the allegations.

In a letter addressed to the president of the IOA and shared on Twitter, five wrestlers say “several young wrestlers” have raised serious complaints of “sexual harassment” against the WFI president.

CNN reached out to the WFI for comment and Vinod Tomar, the union’s assistant secretary, denied all the allegations.

“An investigation is underway,” Tomar added. “These are only allegations and are yet to be proven.”

CNN also reached out to WFI President Singh, and his office declined to comment at the time.

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat with Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia during a protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on January 20, 2023 in New Delhi.

On Friday, the WFI chief had scheduled a press conference, but he did not appear. Instead, his son Pratik Bhushan Singh told reporters: “We have given our official statement to the (sports ministry).”

The WFI boss has also postponed “until further notice” a press conference that was planned for Sunday.

In the letter to the IOA, Phogat and her fellow wrestlers said “it has taken a lot of courage for the wrestlers to come together” and file their complaints against Singh, who is a member of the Indian Parliament with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“We fear for our lives,” they added.

Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, tweeted Wednesday“The players want self-respect,” adding that “if the union doesn’t support them, morale breaks down.”

In a statement on Twittersaid politician Babita Kumari Phogat, a former female wrestler and three-time Commonwealth Games medalist, standing with her fellow wrestlers.

“I am with my players in this game. I have full faith that the government will do justice to the athletes of the country who are raising the country’s glory in the world, she said.

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