Somdev Devvarman is a former India No 1 singles player, who reached a career high of 62 on the ATP tour. He was the leading figure when India last competed at the elite World Group level of the Davis Cup in 2011. Since retiring, he has worked as a commentator, coach, and mentor.

The wrestlers’ protest and what has followed has been heartbreaking.

Our wrestlers have won Olympic medals and made the country proud. But what does that really mean at this point, when they are fighting the system? It’s all very obscure right now.

Allegations of sexual abuse as a systemic problem are very grave indeed and are further compounded by the layers of red tape and bureaucracy that athletes have to fight when bringing these issues to the notice of the authorities.

What the athletes are trying to accomplish is find fairness, less corruption, less bias, better people selected for the right jobs – whether that job is captain or head coach of the squad.

Unfortunately these structures tend to be over bureaucratic, to the detriment of athletes. The system should be nourishing and protecting its athletes. The second bureaucracy enters sport, then the winner is not sport. It is bureaucracy.

While political alliances change, it shouldn’t change the progress of sport. Sport should be on its own path.

As athletes we are united because we understand the struggles of what it takes to get to the top. It is extremely hard for an athlete coming from a less fortunate background to invest in the sort of practice and competition it takes to excel. Also, regardless of the finances, we respect the sheer hard work that goes in – the amount of professionalism, the sacrifices, the attention to detail it takes to be successful at the very top level.

But it seems to me that the authorities do not know these struggles. For me, that is the problem that needs fixing.

What the wrestlers are doing is respectable, and it is tragic. Why should it come to this? Why should it come to the point where we are scared to speak up?

People are being made examples of in front of us. People are retiring. People are giving their Padma Shri’s back. The Padma Shri is the fourth-highest civilian honour and people in different professions would do anything to get one. I have got one as well. The fact that these people are willing to give that up, means that they are willing to give up everything.

Look at Bajrang [Punia], Sakshi Malik in this whole case. For me, they are heroes. They are standing up for what they believe is right.

From personal experience, I can say with certainty that the people at the top are not the best suited for the job, in terms of moving the sport forward.

One of the biggest problems we have in tennis is the trust issue between the federation and the players. The allegations against the wrestling body is much more serious than any of the trust issues that we have had. But this lack of trust seems to be a common thread.

Whenever we went out and represented the country and we came back with a medal, people used to say, “You’ve made the country proud.”

We have heard this for decades. But what does that really mean? The fact that we have made the country proud does not mean anything if we are not heard when we raise serious allegations against sports governing bodies.

Athletes are silenced for speaking up. That seemed like the underlying tone coming from the authorities. That goes against the principle of what every athlete is all about. You want an athlete to be strong, independent, to fight the odds and find a way to be victorious.

But it does not seem that everything is in sync with those values.

You see how different countries run their sports – keep China aside. Look at the United States. Regardless of what happens in the American elections in 2024, that changes very little for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Associations. It changes little for the United States Tennis Association, or their swimming federation, athletics, gymnastics, pick anything.

Not to say that we want to be Americans, but just for sports to be absolutely and completely separate from anything political that is happening.

That essence must always remain.

For so many young kids in India, sport is a way of getting out [of poverty]. That is one of the reasons a lot of people take to it in every part of the world.

The reason that sport is so beautiful is because it is an equaliser. It doesn’t care if you have more money, more power or influence – it’s one of the purest things out there.

When I look at the what the wrestlers have done, the word “courageous” comes to mind. They know the consequences they are about to face, and they still say this is the right thing to do.

In many ways, you are looking at role models. Although it might not be appreciated today, I do think that down the line, in the history books, these could be some of the most important athletes for India in the future because they dared to speak the truth to those in power.

“You made the country proud.” I wonder, what that really means? I don’t know the answer to that anymore. That sentence has lost value.

As told to Shahid Judge.