From their first protest on January 18 at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to their return to the same venue three months later, India’s wrestlers continue their fight against the Wrestling Federation of India and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Here’s a complete timeline of events, from the wrestlers protesting and sleeping on the sidewalk to knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court:
India’s top-most wrestlers – Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik – took to New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to protest against the WFI and its chief. In a series of serious accusations, the wrestlers accused WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and unnamed coaches of sexual abuse of women athletes and also issuing death threats. Brij Bhushan denied all the allegations.
The Sports Ministry sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within 72 hours.
The wrestlers met with the Sports Ministry and were given assurances, but they were not satisfied. “They have just assured us [that they will take action]. We did not get any satisfactory response from their side. We are not happy with that. We want to shut down WFI and all of its state associations. We want a fresh start,” said Sakshi.
The wrestlers then had a late-night meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.
The IOA formed a seven-member committee to probe the allegations of sexual harassment. This came after the wrestlers wrote to IOA president PT Usha, asking for an official probe.
The members included four athletes [Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, Dola Banerjee and Alaknanda Ashok], Indian Weightlifting Federation of India president Sahdev Yadav and two advocates.
The WFI rejected all the allegations, including that of sexual harassment, against Brij Bhushan. In its reply to the Sports Ministry, it said. “The WFI is managed by an elected body as per its constitution, and therefore, there is no scope for arbitrariness and mismanagement in WFI by any one individual, including the president.”
Brij Bhushan, who had called for a press conference in his native Gonda, called it off and said he would comment only after the WFI’s AGM on 22 January.
The wrestlers call off their protests after receiving assurances from the Sports Ministry that their grievances would be addressed and that an Oversight Committee would be formed to conduct a thorough enquiry into the wrestlers’ allegations. The Oversight Committee was given a four-week deadline. Furthermore, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said the WFI president would step aside for four weeks, until the Oversight Committee submitted its findings.
Inquilab, not yet zindabad: India’s athletes ask tough questions of failing support system
Brij Bhushan does not face the media as the WFI AGM is called off after the formation of the Oversight Committee, which took over the day to day affairs of the Federation.
The Oversight Committee is formed with Mary Kom as the head. The five-member committee was set up to probe all the charges made by the wrestlers and was also responsible to run the day-to-day affairs of WFI for four weeks.
The other members of the panel included former wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, former badminton player Trupti Murgunde, ex-TOPS CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan and Radhika Sreeman former SAI executive director (teams).
The protesting wrestlers took to Twitter to express their disappointment over the fact that the government did not consult them before forming the Oversight Committee.
हमें आश्वासन दिया गया था कि Oversight Committee के गठन से पहले हमसे परामर्श किया जाएगा। बड़े दुख की बात है कि इस कमेटी के गठन से पहले हमसे राय भी नहीं ली गई. @narendramodi @AmitShah @ianuragthakur
– Bajrang Punia ���� (@BajrangPunia) January 24, 2023
The wrestlers said they were assured they would be consulted before the five-member panel was formed.
“We were assured that we will be consulted before the formation of the oversight committee. It’s really sad that we were not consulted,” the wrestlers tweeted and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Sports Minister Thakur.
The likes of Bajrang and Vinesh withdraw from the Zagreb Open [starting on February 1], the first Ranking Series of the year, saying they were not competition-ready.
Wrestlers vs WFI: How the protest built up over months
A week after their complaints over the formation of the Oversight Committee, the Sports Ministry acted by including former wrestler Babita Phogat to the panel.
“Former wrestler Babita Phogat has been added to the panel of the Oversight Committee formed by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to undertake the day-to-day administration of the Wrestling Federation of India,” the Ministry said in a statement.
There were no signs to suggest that the Oversight Committee had made any progress at the half-way mark of its four-week deadline. A top wrestler who was part of the protest said the committee had not shared any updates with them. The wrestlers had also not been told whether the Asian Championships would go ahead.
Wrestlers’ protest: Halfway to probe committee deadline, questions linger and sport in limbo
India’s top wrestlers, including Bajrang, Vinesh, Ravi and Sakshi chose to skip the year’s second Ranking Series event – the Ibrahim-Moustafa tournament from February 23 to 26. This was the second event they opted out of in as many months.
The Sports Ministry grants the Oversight Committee a two-week extension…while UWW, the global body of wrestling, took away India’s hosting rights of the 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships. The event was to be held in New Delhi from March 28 to April 2, but was moved to Astana in Kazakhstan.
The UWW said, “UWW was forced to change the host of the continental championships due to the recent developments in Indian wrestling and a pending inquiry by the Indian sports ministry against the Wrestling Federation of India.”
Vinesh took to Twitter to lash out at an unnamed member of the Oversight Committee, who she alleged had leaked sensitive information to the press. She appealed to Sports Minister Thakur to take action.
Requirement of action against a member of oversight committee for leaking sensitive information to the press. @ianuragthakur pic.twitter.com/cUPDDUXhaf
– Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) February 26, 2023
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme approved Bajrang and Vinesh’s request for an International training camp. Bajrang was cleared to train in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan for 16 days, while Vinesh got the go-ahead to train at the Olympic Preparation Center in Spala, Poland for 11 days.
Unhappy wrestlers, unhappy Ministry: No endgame in sight for Indian wrestling’s woes
Talking to ESPN, Vinesh said she chose to skip the foreign tour because she felt it was important for her to be around to track any developments in their complaints against the WFI.
“How could I when so much is going on here? If I went abroad, then it would look like we’ve given up and I would have been disconnected from the system. We cannot go abroad to train or compete until this fight [against the WFI] ends,” she said.
“Winning this is no less than a medal” – Vinesh Phogat on taking on the system
The Asian Wrestling Championships begin in Astana, Kazakhstan without Bajrang, Ravi or Vinesh in the Indian team. The trio, India’s most-recent wrestling Olympians, did not qualify for the event as they skipped the trials.
Brij Bhushan says he will not contest the post of WFI president at the elections scheduled for May 7. He was ineligible to contest for the role because as per the Sports Code, he had to serve a four-year cooling off period after manning the top-post for 12 consecutive years. However, he could still take up the role of an official within the WFI. “I have said I will not contest for the president’s post, I have not said I will not contest elections,” he told PTI.
The U-17 National Cadet Championships are held in Gonda, an area that is ‘ruled’ by Brij Bushan. Despite not holding a post in the WFI, Brij Bhushan presided over the event and was seen interacting with the wrestlers as well.
Parbhu iss desh ki raksha karna ���� https://t.co/DaJRmjuZ15
– Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) April 17, 2023
India’s top wrestlers returned to Jantar Mantar to continue their protest against the WFI and Brij Bhushan. The wrestlers accused Brij Bhushan of sexually harassing seven women wrestlers, including a minor, and said they submitted a complaint at Connaught Place Police Station two days ago but the police was yet to file an FIR.
Addressing a press conference, Sakshi said, “We made a complaint at CP Police Station. It has been two days, but no FIR has been registered yet. Seven women complained, which also includes a minor. It makes for a POSCO case, but nothing has been done yet.”
Podium to footpath: India’s best wrestlers seek support from all quarters
The Sports Ministry, in a letter to the IOA chief PT Usha, said the WFI’s affairs will be handled by an ad-hoc committee appointed by the IOA.. The letter stated that elections that were scheduled for May 7 were declared void and that the Oversight Committee had submitted its report will now cease to exist.
Usha also said the IOA would hold an Executive Council meeting on April 27 to discuss the future course of action.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition filed by wrestlers seeking registration of an FIR against Brij Bhushan over allegations of sexual harassment of women wrestlers.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that the allegations raised by the wrestlers were serious and required the court’s consideration. It directed that the case be listed on Friday, after notice was sent to relevant authorities.
The case was mentioned by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who said that no FIR has been lodged despite the sexual harassment allegations. He also said that the victims – whose names had been redacted from the judicial records – included a minor.
The protesting wrestlers stepped up their efforts against official inaction over their complaints by appealing directly to prime minister Narendra Modi and the minister in his cabinet in charge of women’s affairs.
In a series of sharply worded and emotional comments, they questioned Modi’s silence especially in light of the well-publicised women-centric schemes launched by his government.
“PM Modi sir talks about ‘Beti Bachao’ and ‘BetiPadhao’, and listens to everyone’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Can’t he listen to our ‘mann ki baat’?”, Sakshi asked in a media interaction with PTI. “He invites us to his home when we win medals and gives us a lot of respect and calls us his daughters. Today, we appeal to him that he listens to our ‘Mann Ki Baat’.”
The IOA formed a three-member ad-hoc committee to handle the day-to-day affairs of the WFI and conduct its elections within the next 45 days. The committee members are Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa and a retired High Court judge, who will be named in the coming days. PT Usha also condemns the wrestler’s protests, claiming it was ‘not good for the sport’.