In an unprecedented press conference on Wednesday, India’s top wrestlers made several serious accusations against the Wrestling Federation of India, its president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and unnamed coaches. The allegations include sexual abuse of women athletes and coaches and also issuing death threats.

These are some of the charges made:

On the alleged sexual harassment:

Vinesh Phogat: The coaches in the national camp behave poorly with women athletes and coaches. They exploit them. There are a few coaches in the national camp, not all, [who] behave irresponsibly with women coaches. I raised a concern regarding this and, despite that, the same coach has been named the chief coach in the national camp.

These few coaches interact with the athletes only with the motive of exploiting them. I don’t know how many women the adyaksh [president] has exploited. There are girls seated here who have also been exploited. I can name at least 10-20 female wrestlers in the national camp who have told me how they were exploited. I’ve been hearing such stories since the time I’ve known adyakshji. I’ve openly said today, I don’t know if I will be alive tomorrow.

On the women’s camps being held only in Lucknow

Vinesh: Why is the women’s national camp always held in Lucknow? We’ve written to the Prime Minister and the Sports Minister requesting them to change the venue. Why can’t we have the camp with the men in Sonepat? We could even learn some things from them.

Sakshi Malik: This is because they can easily exploit women there. [Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh. Brij Bhushan is a member of parliament from the Kaiserganj Lok Sabha constituency in UP].

Mental torture and death threats

Vinesh: He [Brij Bhushan] has been mentally torturing me every day – for the smallest things… makes us beg for the small things. The federation made me a deshdrohi [traitor] after the Tokyo Olympics. The Federation mentally tortured me. It was so bad that it drove me to the point of considering suicide. I thought of taking my life. I am openly saying this today because it has happened to me.

Bajrang: We have received death threats [to prevent us from speaking up]. Then who will speak up?

Vinesh: You all know how powerful he is and how many times he has been an MP. He has money and is in a powerful position. We are threatened for small things and get death threats. The threats come from his khaas [close] people.

On how the WFI treated Vinesh during and after the Tokyo Olympics

Vinesh: The Indian women’s wrestling contingent did not have a physiotherapist. In that situation, was it important for us, four female wrestlers, to have a female physiotherapist or was it important for adyakshji to go to the Games village? Did anyone ask him about that?

When I was cutting weight, there was no one to take care of me. Us girls cried among ourselves. The junior girls asked me ‘what’s happening? How have you been surviving for so many years?’ and I said ‘what can we do? We did not have the himmat [courage] to fight the system.’But now we have found the himmat and that’s why we are here today.

After Tokyo, the WFI was planning to ban me for two years for indiscipline even though I did nothing wrong. My mistake was wearing the singlet, but did that singlet not have Vinesh on it? Did it not have the India flag? Did it not have India on it?

Why am I considered undisciplined? Because I speak up. You saw what happened around the Tokyo Olympics. I spoke up and they didn’t like it.

No foreign coaches allowed

Bajrang: They said no foreign coaches, that’s alright, we have good coaches in India. But then in his personal academy, he has foreign coaches. He does the best for personal things, but not for players who need the best.

Vinesh: They said such bad things about my coach and claimed that he was just here to make money. Today, no foreign coach is willing to come to India because they’ve portrayed them so wrongly. We don’t have great coaches for women and neither can we bring foreign coaches here.

WFI’s selection criteria

Sakshi: There’s a tournament held every month and it is mandatory to compete in these events. If an athlete cannot compete — not everyone can manage to — they are banned. I have seen young wrestlers sitting outside the Federation asking for forgiveness and to be allowed to compete again. If they [WFI] feel like it, they forgive them if not then the kids are banned.

I have competed continuously in the nationals since the Olympics. I wanted to skip one nationals and asked them to add my name to the camp but they did not. Even Sonam Malik and Anshu Malik, who are the future of Indian women’s wrestling, have not been included in the camp.

Bajrang: The people in the Federation don’t know anything about wrestling. Ask any doctor how long it takes for an athlete to recover from shedding weight the way we do it. Here, in a month we cut weight for the domestic competition, then do so again before the major tournament and once again before the final – we cut weight three times. If someone can perform after doing all of this, then they can come and tell me that I am wrong.

Vinesh: My name has been added to the camp after so many requests and fights. We asked them to add our names to the Ranking Series tournament but they said we’ll have to undertake a fitness test first. Do PV Sindhu or Neeraj Chopra have to undergo fitness tests when making a comeback from an injury? Every athlete is not fully fit after injury and we compete to assess how fit we are.

Wrestlers’ demands

Bajrang: We are tired of raising requests, This has been happening for years. I had a knee injury at the Tokyo Olympics and there was full focus on me until the Olympics. Everybody swooped in and took credit [for my medal] and said the Federation helped me a lot. We were told to take the Federation’s name and thank them. They made me tweet about it.

But after I came back from Tokyo, did anyone bother to enquire? I trained by myself for six months and did my own rehab, no one asked me or enquired. Our demand is not to give us houses or buy us cars, we only ask for wrestling-related things. We’re fighting to save Indian wrestling.

Vinesh: We will remain here, at Jantar Mantar, until he [Brij Bhushan] is removed and the future of Indian wrestling is in safe hands.


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