Sexual Harassment cases in Sports Federations

June 1, 2023
Sexual Harassment cases in Sports

By Anuradha Gandhi


In Dehradun, a sexual harassment case[1] of a 15-year-old cricketer was reported and was lodged at the Nehru Colony police station stating that the girl was molested on multiple occasions. The complaint was filed under sections 354-A-IPC (sexual harassment) and 506-IPC (criminal intimidation) and section 7 and 8 of the POCSO Act[2]. The relationship between sports aspirant and the coach is similar to a Guru and Shishya but recently there are a number of claims of predatory behavior, misogyny and sexual harassment in sports defiling the relationship. Studies indicate 40% to 50% of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse[3]

There can be many psychological as well as physical consequences of sexual abuse and harassment in sport ranging from weight loss/weight gain, bed wetting, fatigue/decreased energy, acting out behaviors, sexually transmitted infections, self-harm ,excessive dieting or binging cutting or breaking the skin pulling out of hair, bullying of peers, suicidal ideation ,clinical depression, mood swings (sad, irritable) loss of interest (anhedonia) suicidal ideation and/or attempt anxiety and anxiety disorders nightmares ,acute and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder among so many others[4].

In New Delhi, in January 2023, thirty Indian wrestlers, including Olympic medalists, staged a sit-in, accusing the president of the Wrestling Federation of India and its coaches of sexual harassment. They called it off on government assurances of a fair investigation. In April 2023, they resumed the protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi as the Internal Committee which was made to address the complaints had not made the report public. They also demanded the arrest of president of the Wrestling Federation of India. The wrestlers claimed that the harassment had been ongoing since 2012, during tournaments and even outside India. On Delhi Police’s refusal to register an FIR (though the offence was cognizable Lalita Kumari[5] judgment) a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court after which the Police finally filed an F.I.R.

In Chennai, a 19-year-old national-level runner filed a sexual harassment complaint[6] against a well-known athletics coach. She said that the coach would improperly touch female athletes under the guise of assisting them with physiotherapy and stretching. Seven more sportswomen, including several who have represented India, filed similar complaints two months after the first. The coach was detained and charged under the IPC and the POCSO Act. In another case a female Gymnast had complained[7] that her coach, videotaped her without her permission during March, 2022 trials. The Gymnastics Federation of India, however, did not reprimand the coach, prompting the Sports Authority of India to appoint a three-member panel and initiate an investigation. Regardless, the coach was named as coach in India’s Commonwealth Games but he was replaced last minute.

In other parts of the world the situation is not much better, in the United States, three women had filed a class-action[8] lawsuit against the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), the NCAA board of governors, and a coach, alleging dozens of incidences of sexual harassment and abuse when the coach recruited and coached them. The ladies claim that the NCAA failed to safeguard them despite knowing about the coach’s alleged assault. In another case in the US, a former gymnast, was one of two female gymnasts who had filed a sexual harassment complaint[9] against USA Gymnastics national team doctor in 2016. Following her claim, more than 265 women came forward to accuse the doctor of sexual abuse. Closer to home, in Afghanistan, Members of Afghanistan’s national women’s squad were sexually and physically harassed[10] by males from the country’s football association, including its President. The president was banned from football for life in 2019 after a FIFA inquiry. While a South Korean short track speed skater, accused[11] her former coach, of sexually and physically assaulting her while she was still a minor in 2018. She left the national team to prevent future assaults as a result of the ongoing abuse. The coach was finally charged with physically and sexually abusing short track speed skater and is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Research by BBC shows the figures of inequality in sports are dramatic when broken down by gender – 42% of men said they played sport compared to 29% of women. In cricket only 15% of Indian women play it, as compared to 25% of men. However, the disparity is slowly turning a wheel when it comes to certain sports. In a BBC survey conducted in 2020, a third of respondents identified one or more sports as being unsuitable for women. These included wrestling, boxing and weightlifting – exactly the disciplines where many Indian sportswomen are shining. Had it not been for India’s female athletes at Rio in 2016, the nation would have returned empty handed from the Olympics for the first time since 1992[12]. In Kabaddi, with 15% of men and 11% of women form part of the sport[13] . With sports becoming a strong contender as a career for men as well women. It needs a regulation and the support of a strong government and legal policies.

How does the POSH Act Covers Sports?

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) POSH Act, 2013 deals with complaints of sexual harassment at workplace and according to Section 2(o) (iv) of the Act, “any sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competitions or games venue, whether residential or not used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto” is a workplace. Further every workplace with ten or more employees must establish an Internal Committee (IC).

IC is the first redressal mechanism under the POSH Act for easy access and confidential solution with a minimum of four members with of which at least 50% of the members should be women, with a woman as a presiding officer 2 other internal members and at least one external member to counter the institutional bias. The federations of any sport are the governing body and regulate the players the coaches as well as all other personnel connected with the sport. It is the moral as well as legal duty of the various sports federations to mandate the formation and working the Internal Committee.

A National Daily survey to check if all the sports federations comply with POSH Act, 2013 on May, 4, 2023[14] became the catalyst to make the wheels to move

Taking Suo-motu cognizance of the report, the NHRC[15] issued notices to “Gymnastics Federation, Table Tennis Federation, Handball Federation, Wrestling Federation, Volleyball Federation, Judo Federation, Squash Rackets Federation, Amateur Kabaddi Federation, Billiards & Snooker Federation, Badminton Association, Archery Association, Basketball Federation, Indian Triathlon Federation, Yachting Association, Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association, Weightlifting Federation and Board of Control for Cricket”, in respect to the said matter changes were made by some of the federations: All these federations have been asked to submit detailed reports within 4 weeks including the present status of the IC in their organization as well as the steps taken or proposed to be taken to address the issue.

The award-winning athletes can shake up the status quo, prompting the government and the Supreme Court to take notice and issue guidelines[16] in this sphere. The law that came into force in 2013 is finally set to gain teeth and be implemented in spirit to make all workplaces safe for women to practice their trade and protest against sexual harassment. For now, we all await the replies of the various federations.

Soumya Madnani, Intern at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this Article.

Related Posts

Statement Issued on Sexual Harassment by United World Wrestling

2 Section 7 & 8 of POCSO Act, 2012
5 MANU/SC/1166/2013 (“Registration of FIR is mandatory under Section 154 of the Code, if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence”)


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