By Anuradha Gandhi and Isha Sharma
The latest wrestling election in India has stirred controversy particularly due to the resounding success of the close aide of the former Chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), who had previously faced accusations of sexually harassing six female wrestlers. The election outcome has reignited discussions about the integrity of the electoral process within the wrestling community, raising concerns about the potential continuation of issues pertaining to sexual harassment.
In pursuance of the wrestler’s protest, a chargesheet was filed against the Former Chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Mr. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh along with his assistant secretary, Mr.Vinod Tomar for committing several offences including sexual harassment, molestation and stalking. The matter was heard by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) and bail was granted.1
Following the massive outrage of the women wrestlers2, the Hon’ble Supreme Court availed this opportunity to raise concern over the lack of enforcement and non-implementation of the POSH Act and issued guidelines for achieving the objective behind enacting the POSH law in real terms in the case Aureliano Fernandes vs. State of Goa.3
Sweeping Victory raised concerns for wrestling in India
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, (the main accused) who had led the WFI for last 12 years, was forced to step aside earlier this year, necessitating fresh polls. The election results marked a sweeping victory of Sanjay Singh (close aide of Brij Bhushan) with 40 out of 47 votes, defeating Anita Sheoran, a Commonwealth Games gold medalist who had garnered support from top wrestlers advocating for change within the federation due to sexual harassment charges against the former chief.
Prominent wrestlers who were at the forefront of the protests, including Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat addressed the media following the selection results. Expressing disappointment with the outcome, Ms. Phogot raised concerns about the potential continuation of harassment faced by women wrestlers under the leadership of Sanjay Singh.
“Now that Sanjay Singh has been elected chief of the federation, women wrestlers will continue to face harassment”, remarked Ms. Phogat.
Uproar among Protesting Wrestlers
The fallout from these developments has left the future of wrestling uncertain, with prominent athletes expressing their grief and continuing their fight for justice. The elections not only decided the presidency but also filled other key positions within the Wrestling Federation, marking a significant shift in leadership and raising questions about the future direction of Indian wrestling in India.
In a surprising move, Ms. Malik, a leading voice in the wrestling protest, declared the decision to quit the sport with tears in her eyes stating “We fought, but if the new president is Brij Bhushan’s aide, his business partner, then I quit wrestling,” as she placed her boots on the table, marking a protest against the winning of close associate of the former chief.
“It’s unfortunate that the government did not stand by its word that no Brij Bhushan loyalist will contest the WFI elections,” Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medalist Bajrang rued and added that he is not sure if he will continue to pursue competitive wrestling. A decorated wrestler and recipient of the Padhma Shri Award formally announcing his decision to return the prestigious honour.4
Vinesh Phogot, a Commonwealth and Asian Games Gold Medalist expressed the frustration “It’s saddening that the future of wrestling is in the dark. To whom shall we convey our grief.. We are still fighting”, she added while interacting with the media.5
Steps taken by Union Sports Ministry
Responding to the hue and cry, the Union Sports Ministry has suspended the newly elected Wrestling Federation of India body declaring it a hasty and arbitrary decisions so taken in complete disregard for the existing rules and regulations vide its official release on December 24.6
“Such decisions (holding nationals) are to be taken by Executive Committee, before which agendas are required to be placed for consideration. As per Article XI of the WFI constitution under the Heading ‘Notices and Quorum for Meetings’, minimum notice period for EC meeting is 15 clear days and quorum is of 1/3rd of representatives. Even for Emergency EC meeting, minimum notice period is 7 clear days with quorum requirement of 1/3rd of representatives,” the ministry said in its press release.
Giving reasons for suspending the newly-elected body, the ministry stated: “Newly elected body appears to be in complete control of former office bearers in complete disregard to the Sports Code”.
“The business of the Federation is being run from the premises controlled by former office bearers. Which is also alleged premises wherein sexual harassment of the players have been alleged and present the court is hearing the natter,” it further added.
Ad-Hoc Committee Formed
Responding to the request of the Sports Ministry, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) constituted an ad-hoc body comprising of Bhupinder Singh Bajwa as Chairman, MM Somaya and Manjusha Kanwar as Members, in order to observe, supervise and look into day-to-day operations of the Federation.
The WFI’s suspension was welcomed by Sakshi Malik who commented that “It is the first step towards something good happening. I hope the government understands more for what cause we were fighting.”
“If a woman federation president is there, it will be better for the safety of woman wrestlers. It was a fight for sisters and daughters of the country,” she added.7
Our Federation does not recognize this suspension: Suspended WFI Chief, Sanjay Singh
The Suspended WFI’s Chief, Sanjay Singh rejects the Sports Ministry’s actions and plans to host the national championships, deepening Indian wrestling’s crisis. Despite suspension, he said that the federation is planning to host the national championships soon and further emphasized that neither the recent suspension nor the formation of an ad-hoc panel deterred their intentions.
“We got elected democratically. The Returning Officer had signed the papers, how do they ignore that. We do not recognize this ad-hoc panel.”.8
The WFI-currently under suspension has no authority, the Sports Ministry said:
In response to the statement issued by Sanjay Singh that they will soon organize the national championships and insisted that they do not recognize the suspension nor the ad-hoc panel, the Sports Ministry on Sunday, January 07, 2024 said the suspended Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has no authority to conduct the Senior National Championships and any event staged by the body will be considered “unsanctioned” and “unrecognized”.9
“It has come to the notice of the Ministry that you have issued a Circular bearing No. WFI/Senior National/Maharashtra/2024 dated 06.01.2024 on the letterhead of the Wrestling Federation of India regarding conduct of Senior National Wrestling Championship 2023 at Pune (Maharashtra) from 29-31 January 2024,” Ministry said in a letter.
As per this Ministry’s order dated 24.12.2023, you have no authority to issue such a Circular or to use the letterhead of the Wrestling Federation of India wherein you claim affiliation of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports.
In the strongly worded letter to Sanjay Singh, the Ministry further said that “any championships or competitions organized by you the suspended Executive Committee Members of the WFI-will be treated as unsanctioned and unrecognized competitions.
“Certificates of participation and medals won in championships conducted by the WFI will be of no consequence and will not be considered for eligibility under any scheme of the government or appointment to government jobs/to get admission in school and colleges under sports quota, sports awards, etc…
Summary of the Key Events:
|On January 18, 2023
|Indian wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik began their protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar after they accused former WFI chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment charge.
|On January 20, 2023
|A complaint letter submitted to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) demanding the resignation of former WFI chief and formation of an inquiry committee to probe the allegations.
|On April 25, 2023`
|The wrestlers move Supreme Court seeking registration of FIR against Bhushan Singh.
The Apex Court called the sexual harassment allegations against Singh “serious” and issued a notice to the Delhi Police in the matter.
|On May 28, 2023
|Wrestlers booked for rioting and obstructing public servant in discharge of duty, while they attempt to march towards the new Parliament.
|On June 03, 2023
|Home Minister Amit Shah meets wrestlers
|On June 07, 2023
|The wrestler’s had officially called off their protest after the Sports Minister assured them of a police investigation against Bhushan.
|On July 18, 2023
|Delhi court grans interim bail to Brij Bhushan Singh.
|On December 21, 2023
|Sanjay Singh, who is known to be a close aide of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, was elected as the new President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI)
|On December 21, 2023
|The newly formed WFI’s chief announced that U-15 and U-20 nationals for wrestling will take place in Nandini Nagar, Gonda (UP) before the end of this year.
|On December 24, 2023
|The Sports Ministry announced the suspension of the newly formed WFI body, citing the “hasty announcement” to hold nationals without giving sufficient notice to wrestlers to prepare.
|On January 06, 2024
|The Sports Ministry said that the WFI currently under suspension lacks the authority to conduct the Senior National Championships and any event organised by the body will be deemed ‘unsanctioned’ and unrecognized.
“Any championships or competitions organized by you the suspended Executive Committee Members of the WFI-will be treated as unsanctioned and unrecognized competitions.”