January 30, 2023

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Indian Wrestling: Ministry of Sports, Olympic Federation to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against top officials

New Delhi CNN —

India’s Sports Ministry said on Friday it would investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

Sports Minister Anurag Thakur announced the formation of an oversight committee to look into the claims after meeting several leading wrestlers who called for an investigation.

The wrestlers have been protesting in the Indian capital New Delhi for three days, demanding the dismissal of WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and the WFI’s dissolution.

The WFI has denied all allegations.

Olympic wrestler Vinesh Phogat and four others have said they are speaking on behalf of the accusers to protect their identities and have not released details of the young wrestlers’ allegations.

Sports Minister Thakur said in a joint press conference with the wrestlers in the capital New Delhi that the “serious allegations, whether they be charges of financial irregularities or charges of sexual harassment, will be investigated”.

“The committee will monitor all day-to-day operations until the investigation is completed and until then, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh will stand aside and cooperate in the investigation,” the minister added.

Thakur’s announcement came after a second round of talks between the minister and the wrestlers.

The committee has four weeks to complete the investigation, Thakur said.

He added that the names for the oversight committee would be announced on Saturday.

Olympic wrestler Bajrang Punia, who attended the meeting, welcomed the announcement, saying: “The union’s sports minister has listened to our demands and has assured us that a proper investigation will be carried out. I thank him and we hope a fair investigation is carried out, so we are canceling the protest.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) will also set up a seven-person panel to investigate the allegations against Singh, according to CNN News 18, a CNN affiliate.

“We will ensure a full investigation to ensure justice,” said IOA President PT Usha tweeted Friday and urged athletes to come forward and voice their concerns.

Several Indian wrestlers had written to the IOA calling for a committee of inquiry to be formed to investigate the allegations.

In a letter to the IOA’s president shared on Twitter, five wrestlers say “several young wrestlers” have made serious “sexual harassment” complaints against the WFI president.

CNN reached out to WFI for comment and Vinod Tomar, the association’s deputy secretary, denied all allegations.

“An investigation is ongoing,” Tomar added. “These are just claims that have yet to be proven.”

CNN also reached out to WFI President Singh, and his office declined to comment at the time.

Indian Wrestling: Ministry of Sports, Olympic Federation to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against top officials

The WFI chief had scheduled a press conference on Friday, but he did not show up. Instead, his son Pratik Bhushan Singh told reporters, “We have made our official statement to the Ministry of Sports.”

The WFI boss has also postponed a press conference planned for Sunday “until further notice”.

In the letter to the IOA, Phogat and her fellow wrestlers said “it took a lot of courage for the wrestlers to come together” and file their grievances against Singh, who is a member of India’s Parliament of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“We fear for our lives,” they added.

Phogat, the first Indian wrestler to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, tweeted on Wednesday“The players want self-respect,” he added, “if the association doesn’t support them, morale will collapse.”

in one statement on TwitterPolitician Babita Kumari Phogat, a former wrestler and three-time Commonwealth Games medalist, said she stands by her fellow wrestlers.

“I am with my players in this fight. I have full confidence in the government to do justice to the country’s athletes, who enhance the country’s honor in the world,” she said.