The Wrestling Federation of India on Friday told the Centre that allegations of sexual harassment against its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh were malicious and unfounded, India Today reported.

A group of wrestlers, including Olympic bronze medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia along with Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Vinesh Phogat, have accused Singh and the Wrestling Federation of India coaches of sexually harassing female players.

The Centre had sought a response from the sports body to the allegations. It also told Singh to step aside from his post till an inquiry by the Indian Olympic Association was complete.

The wrestling federation said on Friday that its committee against sexual harassment has not received any such complaint. It alleged that the athletes protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar were part of “a deeper and a larger conspiracy” and had vested interests.

“It would also be worth drawing attention that even the next election for the management of WFI is due in the near future of the year 2023,” it said.

The federation said that under Singh, it has always acted in the best interests of wrestlers.

“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 individually, including the president,” the federation said.

Earlier on Friday, the Indian Olympic Association formed a seven-member committee to investigate the allegations against Singh, PTI reported.

The Indian Olympic Association formed the committee after the wrestlers wrote to its president PT Usha seeking action against Singh and the Wrestling Federation of India.

“Vinesh Phogat was mentally harassed and tortured by the WFI chief after she missed out on an Olympic medal in Tokyo,” the wrestlers told Usha. “She almost contemplated suicide.”

The Indian Olympic body’s probe panel is headed by Olympic medalist Mary Kom and includes former archer Dola Banerjee, London Olympic medalist Yogeshwar Dutt and Indian Weightlifting Federation President Sahdev Yadav.

The association, however, did not respond to the athletes’ demands calling for the resignation of Singh and dissolution of the Wrestling Federation of India.

A National Sports Federation cannot be dissolved unless it has violated the Indian Olympic Association rules or has been de-recognised by the world body of the sport.

Meanwhile, the wrestlers met Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur for a second round of talks on Friday night and decided to call off their sit-in protest, which started on Wednesday afternoon at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.

“It has been decided that an oversight committee will be formed, names for which will be announced tomorrow [Saturday],” the sports minister said after the meeting that lasted close to five hours. “The committee will complete its investigation within four weeks. It will thoroughly probe all the allegations be it financial or sexual harassment that have been levelled against WFI and its chief.”

Singh, who has been heading the Wrestling Federation of India since 2011, has denied the allegations against him by saying that the athletes have no evidence to support them.

He 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.

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 picture becomes clear with the tweets and statements by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Deepinder Hooda,” Singh, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj, told reporters.