Panel deal done, WFI chief to step aside until probe; wrestlers call off protest

Bajrang Punia, who spoke on behalf of the protesters, said they were satisfied with the outcome of the meeting adding they have full faith in the probe committee.

Published: 21st January 2023 07:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2023 10:11 AM   |  A+A-

WFI protest

The panel will submit its findings in four weeks till which time Singh will step aside and assist it. (Photo | Special arrangement)

Express News Service

In a late-night deal struck between the sports ministry and the protesting wrestlers, the government announced the setting up of an oversight committee to examine all the grave charges against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.  The panel will submit its findings in four weeks till which time Singh will step aside and assist it.

After almost seven hours of meeting on Friday, sports minister Anurag Thakur along with the wrestlers announced that the committee to be formed on Saturday will look into the day-to-day matters of the WFI.

“We had a discussion with the wrestlers and have decided to form an independent committee that will be completely neutral,” said Thakur. He also said that the ministry will look into all allegations including financial misappropriation and sexual harassment against Singh.

Bajrang Punia, who spoke on behalf of the protesters, said they were satisfied with the outcome of the meeting adding they have full faith in the probe committee.

“Since our wrestlers were a little worried about threats from WFI, the ministry has assured us full support,” said Bajrang, adding that the protest will be withdrawn. Among those who were part of the meeting that began around 6 pm were Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik, World Championships medallists Vinesh Phogat and Anshu Malik.

ALSO READ| Vinesh Phogat accuses WFI President of sexual harassment, India's top wrestlers protest

Earlier in the day, Singh had refused to resign. He is at Gonda where the Senior National Senior Open National Ranking Tournament is set to begin on Saturday.The wrestlers who continued their protest at Jantar  Mantar, said that more players have spoken to them about their harassment.

The wrestlers also wrote to Indian Olympic Association president PT Usha. After IOA met in the evening, it formed a seven-member committee to look into the allegations. Interestingly, the panel has Yogeshwar Dutt who has not been part of the protest.
The meeting between the sports minister Anurag Thakur and agitating wrestlers continued for almost seven hours. It bore fruit as far as the government is concerned as the wrestlers decided to call off their protest. But how fruitful it turned out for the grapplers could be gauged only after four weeks.
It has been decided that an oversight committee will be formed, which will probe all charges levelled against the Wrestling President of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and submit a report within the stipulated time period.
Given the wrestlers' primary demand, which was removal of Singh and disbanding of the federation and its affiliated state units, it hardly serves their purpose as the sports minister said the WFI chief will only step aside and help with the probe. Interestingly, Singh's tenure end over next month.“We are calling off the protest as the government has assured us that justice will be done,” Bajrang Punia said after the announcement.
Adding further, the Olympic and World Championships medallist said, “A decision has been taken to form a committee to handle day-to-day function and look into our concerns. The sports minister has said that player safety is his prerogative as players have received threats from the federation before. The minister has conveyed his support to us at every step of the way. Our sport has come very far and we didn’t want this protest either but things got so out of hand that we had to take a step like this.” he added.
IOA meets, appoints committee
The Indian Olympic Association too sprang into action. It formed a committee and said a thorough investigation will be carried out by the IOA. The protesting wrestlers sent a letter signed by five wrestlers – Tokyo Olympic medallists Ravi Dahiya, Bajrang, Sakshi, Vinesh and Deepak Punia — to IOA chief PT Usha.
Among other demands, the wrestlers wanted Singh to be removed and the WFI be disbanded. It also asked “the IOA to immediately appoint a committee to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment. A new committee should be formed to run the affairs of WFI in consultation with the wrestlers."
The IOA had an emergency executive committee meeting and constituted a seven-member committee. The committee comprises athletes' commission chairperson Mary Kom, sportspersons of outstanding merit members Dola Banerjee and Yogeshwar Dutt, joint secretary Alaknanda Ashok and treasurer Sahdev Yadav and two advocates. The emergency meeting was attended by the executive council members, International Olympic Committee athletes commission member Abhinav Bindra and Shiva Keshavan, a member of IOA’s athletes’ commission.
According to an IOA statement, “A detailed discussion was held on the letter received from the athletes and all the members including special invitees presented their views and suggestions. It was unanimously agreed that IOA must not get carried away by media trials. Further the EC unanimously decided that a committee will be formed in accordance with the prevention of sexual harassment of women act of 2013 and must hear both sides and submit a report to the IOA president." It will wait for the sports ministry's report on this as well.
Earlier in the day, Vinesh said that if their demands are not met protests will continue. "We will train here only. We had a lot of discussions but nothing on paper yet," she said before meeting the sports minister in the evening. "I received a call from another woman wrestler today. She doesn't hail from Haryana. She told me how she was harassed. I have an audio of 30 minutes. Even 6-7 male wrestlers also told us how they went into depression and quit the sport. The allegation is against the vice-president of the WFI. They lodged complaints against him with the WFI but the federation didn't respond. I also request wrestlers not to go to Gonda for the Ranking Tournament as it will be difficult for them to come back if they reach."


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