Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on Thursday assured protesting wrestlers that stern action would be taken if any Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) coach or official is found guilty, sources told .. Thakur met with the wrestlers including Babita Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia among others after their second day of protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi over allegations of sexual misconduct by WFI coaches and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
In the meet, that started around 10 pm on Thursday night, the protesting wrestlers demanded the resignation of Brij Bhushan and the disbanding of the wrestling body, according to sources. However, Thakur told them to wait for an official reply from the WFI that the sports ministry had sought on Wednesday, the sources added. But, the wrestlers are not ready to settle at anything less than resignation of the WFI president. The meeting went on for close to four hours. There is a possibility that the parties might meet again on Friday.
The centre, in a statement on Wednesday, had made it clear that if the WFI does not respond in the next three days, the sports ministry “will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011.”
Earlier, Vinesh Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, said that they have not got any ‘satisfactory response’ from the government.
“Unfortunately we did not get a satisfactory response. Yesterday, we had 1-2 victims amongst us but now we have 5-6 wrestlers, who were harassed (sexually). We can’t name them now, after all they are daughters and sisters of somebody. But if we are forced to disclose their identity, it will be a black day,” said Vinesh, a two-time World Championship medallist, on Thursday afternoon while speaking to the media.
“It’s not just about his (Brij Bhushan) resignation. We will send him to jail. We did not want to take the legal route, because we had hoped for resolution but if a proper solution is not provided, we will lodge FIRs against the President. We are World Championship and Olympic medallists, don’t suspect us, we are telling the truth, believe us.”
Vinesh Phogat had previously alleged that coaches who are favourites of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) misbehave with women wrestlers and harass them. She also accused the WFI chief Brij Bhushan of sexually exploiting women athletes and calling her a ‘khota sikka’ after her defeat at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Singh has denied the allegations.
WFI Executive Meet
Also, a meeting of the Executive Committee and the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the WFI is slated to be held on January 22 in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh and its chief Brij Bhushan will participate.
Olympian wrestler Bajrang Punia said: “Five to six women wrestlers are here with us who have faced these atrocities and we have evidence to prove it.” Earlier, some of the ace wrestlers went to office of Union Sports Ministry in Shashtri Bhawan for a meeting with ministry officials. However, they remained unsatisfied.
Olympic bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik said, “Government did not promise any action, they have only given assurance and we’re not happy with the response, we request PM sir to ensure justice.”
Former wrestler and Haryana BJP leader Babita Phogat reached the protest site on Thursday to meet the wrestlers as a mediator from the government and assured the grapplers that their demands will be met. “I have assured them that the government is with them. I will try that their issues are resolved today,” Babita said.
“Babita Phogat has come from the government’s side for mediation. We will speak with her and then give more details,” wrestler Bajrang Punia said.
With PTI and ANI inputs
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