Vinesh, a double World Championships medallist and a three-time CWG gold winner, also accused Singh of indirectly issuing death threats to her through some influential WFI office-bearers after she met PM Narendra Modi personally along with her family in October 2021 on her return from Tokyo Olympics and discussed the difficulties faced by the Indian wrestlers rising up the ranks, WFI’s irrational selection policies and the federation’s high-handedness faced by some of the leading wrestlers.
Vinesh and Rio Olympics bronze winner Sakshi, flanked by Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, staged a four-hour-long sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar here, demanding action against Singh and other WFI office-bearers of being complicit in his wrongdoings. They also blamed some national coaches, accusing them and Singh of sexually harassing wrestlers at the Sports Authority of India-run (SAI) Netaji Subhas regional centre in Lucknow, where the national camps for women wrestlers are organised.
“Several women wrestlers have been sexually exploited by Singh over the years. Some female wrestlers who are sitting here with me at the protest site are victims of sexual harassment by him. I won’t be taking names but at least 20 girls I know have been sexually harassed at the camp. I have never personally faced such exploitation but have heard several stories about his misdeeds. Why does he always hold the national camp in Lucknow? It’s because his home is in Lucknow and it’s convenient for him to indulge in such acts. He is a big-time politician, a strongman who wields a lot of money and muscle power. No one dares speak against him because everyone knows what he can do with our lives. But today, we decided to break our silence and expose him in front of the entire world because we have had enough of this man,” a weeping Vinesh told a jam-packed press conference.
Singh is a five-time MP from Kaiserganj in UP. The protesting wrestlers included other leading India wrestlers including World championships medallists, Anshu Malik and Sarita Mor, Sonam Malik, Sumit Malik, Satyawart Kadian, Amit Dhankar, Jitender Kinha and Bajrang’s coach Sujeet Maan among others. The wrestlers intend to continue their protest braving Delhi’s chill till the time Singh is removed from his post. The wrestlers said they won’t participate in any national or international tournaments or join the camp till their demands are met.
“Several coaches have been sexually exploiting female wrestlers at the camps. Some of them are senior coaches. They have been appointed by Singh specifically to keep an eye on such wrestlers so that he can exploit them. These coaches pass on every small information — who these female trainees are talking to, roaming around with or gossiping. They are like his ears at the camps and themselves indulge in inappropriate behaviour. When Bajrang had decided to marry Sangeeta Phogat, the WFI president had discouraged him. He has this habit of interfering in every female wrestler’s life,” Vinesh alleged.
Wrestlers, including Olympians Bajrang Punia & Sakshi Malik, protest against Wrestling Federation of India at Jantar Mantar
“If tomorrow something happens to me or to my fellow wrestlers sitting here, then Singh should be held responsible for it. The people in WFI are very powerful. When I failed to win a medal in Tokyo, WFI had branded me a traitor. Singh called me a ‘khota sikka’. All we want is his removal from the post and an appointment with honourable PM Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah to tell them about WFI’s dark side. I can’t reveal the names (of wrestlers being sexually exploited by Singh) here but can tell them. We will also show them the videos of him physically abusing the male wrestlers during championships and hurling expletives at them,” she added.
Four-time World Championships medallist, Bajrang, added: “We want to tell the world about the WFI’s tanashahi (dictatorship). They treat us like their servants. We are here to protect the interests of young wrestlers. We might not be around for long, maybe 2024 Paris or 2026 or 2028 Los Angeles. But what about the younger generation of wrestlers? Singh treats them with disdain, uses foul language or slaps any wrestler like he did during an age-group national tournament in Ranchi (in December 2021).”
Singh has been at the WFI’s helm since 2011. He was re-elected to the president’s post for the third time in February 2019.
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