India’s sports ministry suspends wrestling federation days after Olympian wrestler quit

Ministry accuses wrestling body of showing ‘blatant disregard for established legal and procedural norms’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Sunday 24 December 2023 11:27 GMT
Related: Indian wrestlers protesting sex abuse stopped from reaching country’s new parliament

India's federal sports ministry on Sunday suspended the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) shortly after the election of a new president, which saw Olympian Sakshi Malik hang up her shoes in protest.

Malik, a 2016 Olympics bronze medalist, announced last week that she was quitting wrestling immediately after Sanjay Singh, a close aide of his sexual harassment-accused predecessor, was elected as the WFI's new chief.

Sanjay Singh is a close aid of Brij Bhushan Singh, who is a six-time lawmaker from prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He was charged in June with sexually harassing six female wrestlers during his tenure following weeks of protests led by Malik.

The federal sports ministry on Sunday accused the new WFI committee led by Mr Singh of showing "blatant disregard for the established legal and procedural norms".

"The business of the federation is being run from the premises controlled by former office bearers,” the ministry said, according to the Indian Express. “Which is also alleged premises wherein sexual harassment of the players have been alleged and present the court is hearing the matter.”

"Sanjay Kumar Singh, newly-elected president of WFI announced on 21.12.2023, the day he was elected as president, that U-15 and U-20 nationals for Wrestling will take place in Nandini Nagar, Gonda (Uttar Pradesh) before the end of this year.

"This announcement is hasty, without giving sufficient notice to wrestlers who are to take part in the said nationals and without following the provisions of the constitution of WFI,” a sports ministry official added.

It said the new body flouted the WFI constitution and that the federation has not been terminated but suspended till further notice.

Following the federation's suspension, Brij Bhushan Singh at a press conference on Sunday claimed that he had "nothing to do with the sport now".

"I have other responsibilities to focus now. I will be away from the politics of this sport".

Sanjay Singh said he was on a flight when the ministry announced the suspension and he had not received any letter regarding the issue. "I will make a public statement only after going through the letter. I have heard that some decisions have been reversed," he added.

Malik reacting to the suspension said: "I have not seen anything in writing yet. I don't know whether only Sanjay Singh has been suspended or the entire body has been suspended."

"Our fight was not with the government. Our fight is for women wrestlers, I have announced my retirement but want that upcoming wrestlers should get justice," she added.

Malik, 31, broke down last week as she announced her decision to quit wrestling, while the powerful lawmaker and the new WFI president celebrated their "victory".

"If Brij Bhushan Singh's business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling", she said before leaving the venue with tears in her eyes.

The wrestlers began their protest against Brij Bhushan Singh in January by camping in the streets of the capital New Delhi. They had later called off the protests after talks with the federal sports minister on the promise of action against the lawmaker.

But the protests resumed again in April due to government inaction alleged by the wrestlers, leading to dramatic scenes of them being briefly detained by Delhi’s police as they tried to march to the new parliament building.

United World Wrestling (UWW), the game’s governing body, had suspended the WFI after the scandal. The WFI missed the August deadline to appoint a new president, forcing Indian wrestlers to compete as neutral athletes in global events.

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