Olympic wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia return prestigious awards as a mark of protest against alleged mistreatment in Indian wrestling.
International wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia have taken a remarkable stand against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) following the recent election results. Both athletes, known for their exceptional prowess in wrestling, have returned their prestigious awards as a mark of protest, casting a spotlight on the alleged mistreatment of female wrestlers within the country.
Vinesh Phogat, an Olympic bronze medallist, took to Kartavya Path near the Prime Minister’s office in New Delhi to leave her Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards on Saturday. Her decision comes days after she shared her disappointment with the election of Sanjay Singh, a close aide of the former WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is facing legal charges of sexual harassment.
Bajrang Punia, another illustrious wrestler, had previously left his Padma Shri award at the same location in protest, shortly after the Sanjay Singh-led panel triumphed in the WFI elections on December 21.
The controversy surrounding the WFI has been ongoing, with Phogat, Punia, and Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik previously leading a sit-in protest. Their demand for justice and action against the alleged sexual harassment incidents involving the former WFI president intensified after the elections resulted in Sanjay Singh’s victory.
The Sports Ministry responded by suspending the newly elected WFI body, citing a “blatant disregard for established legal and procedural norms” during the elections. Consequently, an ad hoc committee under the Indian Olympic Association was formed to oversee wrestling activities.
Phogat’s act of returning her awards was captured in a video shared on social media, mirroring Punia’s similar action earlier. Punia expressed concern about the stagnation in wrestling activities, urging the Sports Ministry to resume national competitions and preparatory camps with the Paris Olympics looming.
The wrestlers’ protest underscores their unwavering dedication to addressing the alleged injustices within the WFI, reflecting their commitment to ensuring fair treatment and support for all athletes, particularly female wrestlers, in the country.
The situation remains tense within the wrestling fraternity as athletes continue to voice their opposition against the new WFI governing body. With the suspension of WFI and the formation of an ad hoc committee, the fate of Indian wrestling hangs in uncertainty ahead of the Paris Olympics scheduled for the near future.