Wrestlers protest against sex abuse in India

Indian wrestlers protest the rampant sexual abuse in local sports by staging a sit-in. A national crisis is looming as a result.

By: Karim Zidan | 3 weeks ago
Wrestlers protest against sex abuse in India
Credit: IMAGO / Hindustan Times

Several top Indian wrestlers, including world champion Vinesh Phogat and Olympic medalists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, have staged a sit-in to protest the lack of action against the head of the country’s wrestling federation, Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, whom they accuse of sexual abuse.

The Indian wrestlers protest has lasted for nearly three consecutive weeks, with pressure mounting over the government’s inaction. The protesting wrestlers have filed an official police complaint against Singh, demanded that an independent committee investigate the allegations, and even threatened to boycott all future events until their requests were met.

“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan,” Phogat—the only Indian woman wrestler to win multiple medals at the World Wrestling Championships—said during a protest. “Some of the coaches appointed at national camps have been sexually harassing women wrestlers for years. The WFI president is also involved in sexual harassment.”

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Singh has denied wrestler accusations

Singh, who is also a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused of harassment by seven wrestlers, including a minor, but has denied all the allegations.

“I have not misbehaved with anybody or harassed anyone, nor have I done any injustice to anyone,” Singh said in an interview. “I have treated them like children of my own family. I gave them love and respect. Unfortunately, that is now becoming a problem for me.”

While Singh claims to treat wrestlers like his own family, footage from 2021 shows him slapping a male wrestler on stage after being confronted during a wrestling tournament. 

The 66-year-old is currently serving his third consecutive term as WFI president, having been elected unopposed in 2019. And while the next round of elections was scheduled to take place on May 7, India’s Sports Ministry last week that the elections should be considered “null and void” due to the accusations levied against Singh during the Indian wrestlers protest.

Then on Monday, May 8, Jantar Mantar witnessed dramatic scenes as a group of farmers broke down police barricades to join the wrestlers’ protest. 

The rest of this article is free to read on Karim Zidan’s Sports Politika newsletter.

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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