Indian sport appears to have touched its nadir. In the most embarrassing episode in its history, top sportspersons have staged a protest, levelling sexual exploitation charges against a top administrator. In what can be termed a #MeToo movement, top wrestlers recently slapped charges of sexual exploitation of athletes against Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a sitting MP. The protesters include multiple world championships medallist Vinesh Phogat, Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, world medallist Anshu Malik, Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, and a host of other international players. The wrestlers want Singh removed, and WFI disbanded, including its state units. He is adamant and has refused to step down, denying all charges. It is more complicated because he is a powerful MP in the ruling dispensation. Despite meetings with the sports ministry, the wrestlers have yet to receive satisfactory assurances. The Indian Olympic Association, with whom WFI is affiliated, constituted a panel to probe the allegations after wrestlers sent a letter to its president on Friday. The WFI has to file its explanation to the ministry by Saturday.
Custodians turning perpetrators is the vilest form of human nature. It’s a poor reflection on Indian sports and its administrators, too, showing something fundamentally wrong with the system. That the wrestlers had to resort to a sit-in protest indicates the rot in the WFI. However, such charges are not new in sports. Sexual harassment of players was not unheard of over the years, but it’s of late that athletes are more aware and reporting, especially in India. Recently, former hockey captain Sandeep Singh had to resign as sports minister in Haryana after harassment allegations by a female coach. There were charges against IOA treasurer Anandeshwar Pandey last year. A cyclist had to leave a foreign camp because a coach allegedly wanted her to share his room. According to a Sports Authority of India report, there have been more than 40 cases of sexual harassment in their centres, mostly involving coaches.
Look at the mental and physical turmoil the players are forced to undergo. Sexual exploitation is a crushing psychological blow that would leave them scarred forever. Whom do they trust? Parents and guardians will think twice before leaving their wards in the supposedly secure environment of a national camp. As Vinesh said, this is not just one issue; it’s about bigger issues. It’s time all stakeholders come out and end this malaise.