India’s star table tennis player Achanta Sharath Kamal, the vice-chairperson of the Indian Olympic Association’s Athletes Commission, has voiced his support for the wrestlers protesting at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna winner hoped that the matter is resolved judicially and athletes can get back to training.

The wrestlers – including but not limited to, Olympic bronze medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat – have been protesting against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh since 23 April, whom they allege of sexual harassment.

The protests had initially started in January, but later resumed in April and have been ongoing ever since.

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“The athletes are going through a really tough time. Due to this fight against the federation, they have put their entire career at stake,” Sharath Kamal told Scroll. “For the Paris Olympics, the medal might have slipped away from them. They have taken such a big step, which means this is something they believe that the fight is worth it. As vice-chair of the Athletes Commission, I feel that we as players stand by them in solidarity and hope that justice will be done to the players.”

After the renewed protests in April, the Delhi Police has filed two first information reports against Singh at the behest of the Supreme Court. The WFI chief however has remained adamant that he will not be stepping down from his post.

Though Sharath Kamal has lent his support for his fellow-athletes, he did acknowledge that the outcome is out of the Athlete Commission’s control.

“It’s beyond any of us now – be it the IOA, or Sports Authority of India, the Athletes Commission,” Sharath Kamal said. “It’s up at the judiciary level. It’s up to them to come out and find out what’s happening. I hope (the wrestlers) are shown some light at the end of the tunnel and they can get back to training.”

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The 2023 season is an important year for Indian sports, with the delayed Asian Games coming up in September along with the 2024 Olympic qualification cycle well underway across sports. The 40-year-old was sceptical of the protesting wrestlers’ chances of excelling at the important quadrennial event in Hangzhou, China.

“Hopefully, they’ll be there at the Asian Games, but I doubt it because it will be very tough,” he said. “The mental toll they’ve gone through since January, it’s very tough to come back and just say ‘tomorrow I’ll come back to training and get back on the mat.’ So, the Asian Games is almost gone and I hope Paris doesn’t get away from them.”

“I hope justice is served, and all that we can say is that we stand with them in solidarity. We hope this does not happen to other athletes.”

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