After Vinesh Phogat’s startling allegations against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Mahavir Phogat came out on Wednesday to support her niece.
Mahavir Phogat, on whose life the Bollywood movie Dangal was picturised, said that WFI president and BJP MP organised the women’s training camp in Lucknow as his house was there.
“Wo hamesha ladkiyon ka camp Lucknow mey karwata hai, apne ghar ke qareeb (he always conducts the women’s camp in Lucknow, where he has a house),” he told The Indian Express.
“Pehle bhi kaafi ladkiyon ne shikayat ki hai uske khilaf magar kabhi kuch nahi hua (several girls had complained about his behaviour in the past but nothing has happened),” he added.
“Aaj saare bachhon ne bahaduri dikhayi hai (I am glad that all these kids have shown the courage to come out against his tyranny,” he said.
Vinesh, who has been at loggerheads with WFI since the Tokyo Olympic Games, also claimed that several coaches at the national camp in Lucknow have also exploited women wrestlers, adding there are a few women at the camp who approached the wrestlers at the behest of the WFI president.
The 28-year-old though clarified that she herself never faced such exploitation but claimed that “one victim” was present at the ‘dharna’ they began at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday.
So disturbed was Vinesh that she along with Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia had even met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to flag their issues about three months back.
“We had met the Home Minister and he had assured us that, ‘you will get justice’,” star wrestler Punia told PTI, adding that the ‘sit-in’ was their another attempt to highlight the prevailing issues in Indian wrestling.
Vinesh also claimed that she had received death threats at the behest of WFI president from officials close to him because she dared to draw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention to several issues plaguing Indian wrestling when she met him after the Tokyo Games.
“I know at least 10-20 women wrestlers who have told me about the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of (the) WFI president. They told me their stories. I can’t take their names now but I can definitely reveal the names if we get to meet the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country,” Vinesh said addressing the media after staging a four-hour ‘dharna’ at Jantar Mantar.
“I have received death threats from people who are close to the WFI president. If anything happens to any of us sitting here, only the WFI president will be responsible.”
Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, world championship medallist Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha, Amit Dhankar and CWG medallist Sumit Malik were among 30 wrestlers who assembled at the famous protest site.
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, 66, was elected unopposed president of WFI for a third consecutive term in February 2019.
Taking note of the allegations, the sports ministry has sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to “furnish a reply within the next 72 hours on the allegations made”.
The ministry said, “if WFI fails to furnish the reply within the next 72 hours, the Ministry will proceed to initiate action against the federation in terms of the provisions of the National Sports Development Code, 2011.”
In view of the developments, the ministry has also cancelled the National camp, which was due to start SAI centre in in Lucknow from Wednesday.
In December 2021, the WFI president had slapped an overage wrestler during the under-15 national championship when he insisted on competing after being disqualified.
The sitting BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh rejected all the charges against him and refused to quit his post.
“There is no truth in any of the allegations. Why should I quit? Even if one woman wrestler comes and proves the sexual harassment charge, I am ready to be hanged. There is an industrialist behind it (conspiracy),” said the 66-year-old WFI president.
“There can be an investigation by the CBI or police. There is no dictatorship. These same wrestlers had met me a week back and did not say anything,” he added.
Responding to the allegation of death threats given to Vinesh on his behalf, Brij Bhushan said, “Why Vinesh did not talk to me or approached the police at that time? Why did she not meet the PM or the Sports Minister? Why is she saying this now.”
The WFI boss indicated that the new policy and the rules they have introduced are perhaps causing a bit of discomfort to the wrestlers and that’s why the protest.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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