WFI rejects wrestlers' allegations in reply to government, claims protest is motivated

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (C) arrives to address a press conference in Gonda on January 20, 2023, following allegations of sexual harassment to wrestlers by members of the WFI. AFP via Getty Images

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has rejected all allegations, including that of sexual harassment, against its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, and claimed that the wrestlers' protest was motivated by a "hidden agenda to dislodge the current management".

The WFI denied all the charges in its response to the government's notice and asserted that "there is no scope for arbitrariness and mismanagement " in the federation.

The Sports Ministry had sought an explanation from WFI after the country's top wrestlers protested in New Delhi and alleged that the federation chief sexually harassed women wrestlers and acted like a "dictator".

The WFI sent its reply on Friday evening and, a few hours later, the wrestlers called off their protest after the government announced that it would form an oversight committee to probe the charges. It also confirmed that the WFI chief would step aside till the investigation was over.

"The WFI is managed by an elected body as per its constitution, and therefore, there is no scope for arbitrariness and mismanagement in WFI by any one individually, including the president," the WFI said in its response to the Sports Ministry.

"The WFI, in particular, under the sitting president has always acted keeping the best interests of wrestlers in mind. The WFI has enhanced the image of wrestling sport nationally as well as internationally and for the record of this ministry, it is not possible without fair, supportive, clean and strict management of WFI," it added.

The allegations were made by renowned wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Ravi Dahiya.

The federation brought to the notice of the government that it has a five-member sexual harassment committee in place, chaired by its secretary general VN Prasood and which also has Sakshi as a member.

It said the charges were "motivated, biased, unfounded, untrue and false" and that the allegations were made solely with a view to harm the president, the WFI and its coaches.

"Any aggrieved person/wrestler may approach the said committee for its grievances if any, and the committee is bound to inquire as per law. However, no such complaint of any such nature as has been received from the protestors/wrestlers," the WFI wrote.

The wrestlers, including Anshu Malik, Sangeeta Phogat and Sonam Malik among others, started a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday and demanded the sacking of the WFI chief. They also demanded that the WFI be disbanded immediately and a new panel be formed, including wrestlers.

The WFI listed 23 national events conducted in 2022 and claimed it "speaks of fair, supportive, clean and strict management".

The WFI questioned the timing of the protest, and said vested interests were behind it.

"...who have evidently acted more in personal interest or under undue pressure or under any bigger conspiracy to malign and defame the present management of the WFI or president for vested interest only. The protesting wrestlers are accountable to explain for themselves, to the public as well as the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, particularly when mostly the protestors are seen coming together from a particulars region/state of Haryana," the federation wrote.

"It would also be worth drawing attention that even the next election of WFI is due in near future of 2023... that the protest is not in the best interest of the wrestlers, it has some personal as well as hidden agenda to dislodge the current management of WFI."

The letter, signed by WFI secretary general V N Prasood, also said that the federation is ready to cooperate with the government and will provide all the necessary information the ministry seeks.