According to Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, if individuals associated with Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh's faction win the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections, women wrestlers may not feel secure.
New Delhi: Bajrang Punia underlined the importance of a power shift within the WFI, stressing that no close allies of President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh should participate in the election. Failure to adhere to this principle could hinder the purification process and undermine the safety of women wrestlers.
Brij Bhushan Singh, a BJP MP representing Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh, faces potential prosecution for sexual harassment, molestation, and stalking of female wrestlers, as per the Delhi Police chargesheet. Following a meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur in June, Bajrang Punia and several other top wrestlers ended their protest against Singh. One of the agreed-upon conditions, according to Bajrang, was that no family members or supporters of Singh would contend in the elections.
“Individuals closely associated with Brij Bhushan are now competing in the elections. Sanjay Kumar Singh is vying for the WFI president’s position. If Sanjay Kumar wins, it’s equivalent to Brij Bhushan’s victory. The government assured us that those connected to Brij Bhushan and his family members would not participate. However, it seems that this is not the case,” Bajrang stated.
Sanjay Kumar currently serves as the vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Wrestling Association.
Brij Bhushan is seeking to maintain control through trusted allies, potentially silencing women wrestlers who wish to raise their voices against him but are apprehensive.
“As soon as the WFI is free from any connection to Brij Bhushan, other victims of sexual harassment might gather the courage to share their experiences. Brij Bhushan wields significant power and influence. This is why we’re advocating for change within the WFI,” Bajrang explained.
A Worthy Challenger
The battle for the presidency is a two-way contest, with 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Anita Sheoran being the other candidate. Anita, who testified and corroborated the case against Brij Bhushan, has the endorsement of Bajrang and two other prominent wrestlers, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat, who were part of the protest.
“Anita is a former wrestler. She comprehends the sport, understands the sacrifices wrestlers make to bring glory to the nation, and will serve as a voice for wrestlers. Most importantly, female wrestlers will feel secure. I’m not proposing myself as the WFI president. Nevertheless, the government assured us that our viewpoints would be considered when selecting key roles in the WFI. This was a condition for ending our protest. Unfortunately, it appears that this promise will not be honored,” Bajrang expressed.
Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, following a six-hour meeting with protesting wrestlers in June, had stated, “After the elections, the WFI should function as an exemplary federation with capable office-bearers. Players’ opinions should be taken into account. Former president Brij Bhushan Singh, who has served three terms, and those close to him should not be elected, as demanded by the wrestlers.”
Despite the government’s assurance that wrestlers would have a say in selecting key figures in the new WFI executive committee, it was believed that consensus candidates would be nominated for each category, potentially eliminating the need for elections. However, candidates endorsed by Brij Bhushan for the 15 positions have garnered support from at least 20 of the 25 state units.
Bajrang revealed that he curtailed his training program in Kyrgyzstan and returned to India upon learning that Brij Bhushan was persisting in fielding candidates of his choosing for the elections.
“It’s been emotionally draining for both me and Vinesh. After ending the protest, we aimed to focus entirely on training. But how can we do that when Brij Bhushan’s associates might regain control of the federation? We’ve been in touch with the government, the sports ministry, and the Sports Authority of India to ensure that Brij Bhushan’s associates do not influence the election process. Since returning to India, a substantial portion of my time has been devoted to meetings and phone calls. It’s exceedingly challenging to concentrate on wrestling and training when the future of the sport in India is at stake,” Bajrang added.