We are now in the eleventh day of the second iteration of the sit-in protest of the wrestlers led by Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat against wrestling federation president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
There’s already been some movement on the issue, but lots left to be done. ESPN looks at what can, and must, come next now — from the points of view of all the different stakeholders involved:
They have pledged to stay at Jantar Mantar and fight for justice till Singh is arrested. Their reasoning for this is that the last time they packed up on the word of the ministry and the formation of an oversight committee and nothing happened. They are, therefore, determined to see it through till they get what they came for.
Considering the criminal investigation is at a very preliminary stage, though, this could make for a long wait.
Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik are all favourites to medal at the Asian Games in September-October but appear determined that this fight is the one that takes priority. They have kept training at abeyance, and this will severely impact any plans they may have made to prepare for the Asiad, as well as the World Championships later this year.
The sports ministry has handed matters off to the Indian Olympic Association. This is arguably in line with the Olympic charter which frowns upon direct governmental interference in the running of an Olympic sport’s national federation.
However, the ministry must now make the findings of their own oversight committee public immediately. As per the bullet points noted in their letter to the IOA absolutely none of the wrestlers’ allegations were addressed and it’s imperative that the other stakeholders, including the public, know whether they have been in any form within the report.
They are also under the scanner after Vinesh and Sakshi commented on Tuesday about how the ministry has been complicit in ‘covering up’ these allegations. A transparent release of the full report is the first step now to repair this big rift and dispel any claims of a cover-up.
Indian Olympic Association
The IOA have done two/thirds of the primary task on their desk. Two members of a three-member ad-hoc committee have been selected — Suma Shirur (former Olympian and high-performance coach, national shooting team) and Bhupender Singh Bajwa (President, Wushu Federation of India). The search for a third, a retired high court judge, is on and must be finalized at the earliest. The reason is two-fold:
Elections – it is the mandate of the ad-hoc committee to make the election happen (they have a deadline of 45 days from formation). As per the National Sports Code, Singh cannot run for WFI president again but his influence on the federation he has ruled over for 12 years is undeniable. Consider a recent WFI mail to the world body, which as per PTI, described the protests as ‘a big conspiracy against the WFI President made by the opposition leaders by using the wrestlers.’ The committee will have its task cut out to ensure a transparent, interference-less election.
Day-to-day affairs – Another mandate; they will be charged with selecting the team to represent India at the U23 and U17 Asian Championships (10-18 June) and possibly also the U20 and U15 Asian Championships (12-20 July). Selecting a team would involve national level trials and a national camp to be set up – the recently concluded national championships were held in Gonda (Singh’s parliamentary constituency).
The core matter is now with the Delhi Police. After being forced to file an FIR against Singh by the Supreme Court, their primary responsibility now is to investigate the claims made by the wrestlers. Sakshi Malik told the media on Tuesday that the police were yet to even record statements of the complainants.
Considering the political connections of all those involved, this is no straightforward task.
Besides, we are merely at the first step of the investigative process. After the questioning and evidence gathering comes the filing of the chargesheet, after which comes a court hearing and later court sentencing (all stages if deemed necessary by the preliminary investigation).
It is unclear how long any of these stages will take and at what stage the wrestlers would be appeased that their demands are being met.
United World Wrestling
The world body appears to be as much in the dark as the rest of us. They have now written to the WFI and the IOA asking who oversees the WFI and threatening action in case accurate and official information isn’t provided.
The UWW has also offered to appoint an independent observer for the conduct of the elections. The IOA could bring the UWW into confidence by seeking this appointment once the ad-hoc committee is in place.
Indian sport has just recently seen the cost of confusion between government-national federation-and-international federation when FIFA suspended India from international football for a brief period, and all involved should want to avoid something like that happening to wrestling.