India's female wrestlers accuse officials, coaches of sexual misconduct

January 19, 2023
Top Indian wrestlers are protesting against the country's wrestling federation
Top Indian wrestlers are protesting against the country's wrestling federation

NEW DELHI — Protests have intensified in India after a top Indian athlete accused the chief of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and other coaches of sexually harassing women wrestlers for years.

Vinesh Phogat has alleged that at least 10 women wrestlers confessed to her that they were sexually exploited by WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh.

She made the allegations during a protest held against WFI in capital Delhi on Wednesday.

Singh has denied the allegations.

But Phogat and other women athletes said they would not compete in international tournaments unless Singh was removed from the post.

They have also refused to call down their protest until the government addressed their concerns. On Wednesday, India's sports ministry sought a response to the allegations from WFI within three days.

One of the most decorated women wrestlers of India, Phogat has won medals at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

The 28-year-old, who belongs to a family of international female wrestlers, is also a vocal critic of the sexist attitudes toward women in sports — in 2021, she told BBC Sports how she faced sexist remarks growing up and overcame gender stereotypes to forge a successful career as a professional athlete.

At the protest held at the Jantar Mantar heritage site on Wednesday, Phogat alleged that some of the WFI coaches appointed at national training camps had been "sexually harassing women wrestlers for years".

"They trouble us too much," she said. "They get into our personal lives and relationships."

"Singh is also involved in sexual harassment," the wrestler added. "I know at least 10-12 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of the WFI president."

Phogat said she personally had not faced any harassment, but alleged receiving death threats from officials close to Singh — a charge he denies.

Since Wednesday, several other wrestlers have spoken up against WFI and Singh.

Wrestler Bajrang Punia, who won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and was also present at the protest, accused the WFI president of running the wrestling federation in an "arbitrary manner".

"When we win medals for India everyone celebrates but after that nobody cares about how we are treated, especially by the federation," he said.

— Singh, who is also an MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, said there is "no truth to the allegations" and refused to step down from his post.

"Is anyone saying that the WFI has sexually harassed a wrestler? Only Vinesh has said it. Even if one wrestler comes forward and says that she has been sexually harassed, that day I can be hanged," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, India's sports authority has cancelled the women's national wrestling camp, which was due to be held this week, in wake of the protests. — BBC

January 19, 2023
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