Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on Friday likened the protest against him to the demonstrations at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and claimed that it was organised at the behest of the Congress, PTI reported.

In late 2019 and 2020, the locality of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi was the site of a large sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. A large proportion of the protestors were Muslim women.

“The protest by wrestlers against me is the dharna of Shaheen Bagh,” Singh told reporters. “The protesting players have become a toy in the hands of Congress and Deepinder Hooda.”

A group of wrestlers, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party MP of sexual misconduct and have sought his removal from the post. The wrestlers, protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, are also agitating against the functioning of the sport’s governing body.

On Friday, Singh claimed that the agitation by the wrestlers was part of a conspiracy against him and claimed that “big powers” are behind it.

“The picture becomes clear with the tweets and statements by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Deepinder Hooda,” Singh alleged, according to PTI. “This attack is not only on me but on the Bharatiya Janata Party through me.”

Both Vadra and Hooda have demanded an investigation into the allegations by the wrestlers against Singh and other coaches.

Singh is scheduled to hold a press conference in Gonda later in the evening.

Wrestlers approach Indian Olympic Association

On Friday, the protesting wrestlers wrote to the Indian Olympic Association to form an inquiry committee to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment against Singh.

“In addition, there has been financial misappropriation on the part of the WFI,” the wrestlers alleged in a letter to PT Usha, president of the Indian Olympic Association. “Contract payments were agreed with some of the senior wrestlers in the last few years through sponsorship received from TATA Motors. These payments were only partly made by WFI.”

The letter also alleged mental harassment of Vinesh Phogat by Singh after her defeat in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics following which she contemplated suicide.

“The Coaches and Sports Science staff that WFI President puts in the national camp are absolutely incompetent and not on merit,” the letter alleged. “They are just his [Singh’s] informants and they create a very bad atmosphere in the national camp.”

The wrestlers, including international players like Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Ravi Dahiya, and Deepak Punia have demanded that the Wrestling Federation of India be dissolved and replaced with a new committee which runs in consultation with the players.

“It has taken a lot of courage for us wrestlers to come together and protest against the WFI President,” the letter said. “We fear for our lives. If he is not sacked then the careers of all your wrestlers who have joined this dharna will be over.”

Punia, however, asserted on Friday that the protestors’ fight was not against the government. “All of us sportspersons are protesting against the federation and its chief,” he said on Twitter. “No political party should politicise our agitation.”

On Thursday, Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur had met with the top wrestlers. However, the meeting remained inconclusive as they threatened to step up the protest if their demands are not met. The sports minister told them to wait for an official response to the allegations from the Wrestling Federation of India that his ministry has sought.

The athletes also met Director General of the Sports Authority of India Sandip Pradhan and Sports Secretary Sujata Chaturvedi on Thursday.

BJP leader and former international wrestler Babita Phogat had also met the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar on Thursday. She had said that she had heard of instances of abuse in her career as a wrestler as well. The deputy director at the Haryana Sports and Youth Affairs Department had said that she will raise the matter at all levels of government.