Wrestler Vinesh Phogat on Wednesday accused Wrestling Federation of India President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and other coaches of sexually harassing women wrestlers, reported The Indian Express.
“Some of the coaches appointed at national camps have been sexually harassing women wrestlers for years,” Phogat alleged. “The WFI [Wrestling Federation of India] president is also involved in sexual harassment.”
Singh, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj, has denied the accusations.
Phogat made the allegations during a protest against the functioning of the Wrestling Federation of India at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Besides Phogat, some of India’s top wrestlers such as Sakshi Malik, Sangeeta Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sonam Malik and Anshu were also present.
Addressing reporters, Vinesh Phogat said that while she has not faced any harassment personally, she alleged that she had received death threats at Singh’s behest.
“I know at least 10-12 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of the WFI president,” Vinesh Phogat said, according to PTI. “They told me their stories. I can’t take their names now but I can definitely reveal the names if we get to meet the prime minister and the home minister.”
Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia accused Singh of running the wrestling federation in an arbitrary manner. He added that the wrestlers will not compete in any international competition unless Singh was removed from his post.
“Wrestlers have suffered for a long time silently but now we have decided that we won’t stay quiet anymore against unilateral decisions being taken by the federation,” Punia said, according to The Indian Express. “When we win medals for India everyone celebrates but after that nobody cares about how we are treated, especially by the federation.”
WFI president says he will not quit
Reacting to the allegations, Singh said that he is ready to face an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation or the police but he will not resign, reported PTI.
“There is no truth in any of the allegations,” Singh said. “Even if one woman wrestler comes and proves the sexual harassment charge, I am ready to be hanged.”
Singh added that some of the wrestlers present at the demonstration had met him last week.
“Why Vinesh did not talk to me or approached the police at that time?” the BJP MP asked. “Why did she not meet the PM or the sports minister? Why is she saying this now.”
He claimed that some new policies of the federation are causing “a bit of discomfort” to the wrestlers.
In December, Singh had courted controversy after he slapped a wrestler during the under-15 national championship when he insisted on competing after being disqualified.
The Sports Authority of India said in a statement that they have “sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made. In its communication to WFI, the Ministry has stated that since the matter pertains to the well being of athletes, the Ministry has taken a very serious view of the matter.”
The ministry said that if WFI fails to furnish the reply within the next 72 hours, they will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011.
SAI also said that the women’s national wrestling coaching camp, which was due to start in Sports Authority of India’s National Centre of Excellence in Lucknow from January 18 with 41 wrestlers and 13 coaches and support staff has been cancelled.