Wrestlers' protest: Halfway to probe committee deadline, questions linger and sport in limbo

Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

It's been a little over two weeks since the wrestlers protests came to an end with the Sports Ministry forming a five-member Oversight Committee to investigate the charges made against the Wrestling Federation of India and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

The committee was given a four-week deadline to complete its investigation into the allegations of sexual exploitation, intimidation, harassment and financial irregularities of the Federation and its president. However, halfway through, there are no signs of the committee having made any progress. Meanwhile the wrestlers whose protests led to the investigation have been vocal in their criticism of the committee's composition on their social media.

Wrestlers vs WFI: How the protest built up over months

There have been signs of further tension between the athletes and the administration, and there is also some concern over the staging of the Asian Wrestling Championships, scheduled to take place in New Delhi from March 28.

A top wrestler who was part of the protest says that the committee has not shared any updates with them. The wrestlers have also not been told whether the Asian Championships will go ahead.

Committee composition

On January 23, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur announced the scope of the five-member Oversight Committee. The committee is headed by Mary Kom and includes former wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, ex-badminton player and Mission Olympic Cell member Trupti Murgunde, ex-TOPS CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan and former SAI executive director (Teams) Radhica Sreeman.

It should be noted that the committee had no representative from the legal fraternity or a neutral person from outside the system - all five members were from within the sporting system. Given the nature of charges, it would be expected to function almost as a POSH committee, and so should have had some legal and outside representation.

Additionally, Mary Kom is an MP nominated by the BJP, and so is essentially Brij Bhushan's colleague, while Dutt is very closely aligned with the party and had sided with the administration during the protests.

In response, Bajrang, Vinesh, and Sakshi Malik tweeted that, despite being given assurances, the government did not consult them before forming the committee.

This resulted in a change and former wrestler Babita Phogat was included in the committee. It is believed that the protesting wrestlers wanted her on the committee, but the criteria for her addition are unclear.

Meanwhile, a similar committee appointed by the Indian Olympic Association seems to have disbanded, ceding the probe to the Sports Ministry.

In their first action since taking over, the committee named the Indian contingent (11 Greco-Roman, 13 male freestyle and 12 women wrestlers) for the Zagreb Open Grand Prix. Top wrestlers including Ravi Dahiya, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat pulled out of the event by stating they were not competition-ready.

As things stand, there are still a number of administrative and investigative questions left. India are hosts of the Asian Championship, which will decide the seeding for the World Championship later this year, which will serve as a Paris Olympics qualifier. The committee has to not only decide the logistics for it but also how the Indian squad will be chosen. This usually requires trials in advance, which means the wrestlers have to start preparing.

Even as the Oversight Committee balances both the probe and the administration, Indian wrestling remains in a limbo.