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Wrestlers continue protest against BJP MP WFI chief Brij Bhushan — ‘want to meet Modi or Shah’

Protesting wrestlers upset with Brij Bhushan Singh's monopoly over the sport. He is currently in his 3rd tenure as president of Wrestling Federation of India — elected unopposed.

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New Delhi: Wrestlers will continue their protest against sitting BJP MP and president of the Wrestling Federation of India Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Olympic champion Bajrang Punia told the media at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. “We don’t have orders from the high court to protest all night otherwise we would’ve,” Punia told the media Wednesday evening.

Punia was accompanied by Olympic champion Sakshi Mallik, and top wrestlers such as Sangeeta Phogat, and Vinesh Phogat in leading the protest in the capital Wednesday afternoon. The wrestlers have levelled sexual assault allegations against Singh. A teary-eyed Vinesh Phogat alleged that Singh has been sexually exploiting women wrestlers for many years.

She had also slammed the federation on Twitter earlier in the day.

The wrestlers have refused to divulge any further details about their allegations. “We want an audience with Home minister Amit Shah or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We will share all the details with them. That’s our main demand,” Punia told the media at Jantar Mantar.

The protesting wrestlers also said there have been death threats against them, and Singh is to be blamed if anything happens to them. Singh has denied all the allegations of sexual exploitation against him.

Politics behind the protests

Sources in the wrestling fraternity told ThePrint that Singh is a known “mafiaso” and nobody dares to question his authority. “He’s like the Godfather of all godfathers. You need a gunda to handle a fraternity of wrestlers,” said a senior wrestler on the condition of anonymity.

Somvir Rathee, a wrestler who was at the protest site, said they were frustrated by the monopoly Singh, who has been the president  of the federation for over 15 years now, exercises on the sport in the country. This is his third unopposed presidency of the federation. “Wrestling is concentrated in the northern parts of the country. Now the federation says we can’t represent states other than our bona fide (state). That will end wrestling in the country! So much talent will go to waste,” Rathee said.

But fissures between wrestlers and the federation could be seen during the Olympic games as well when the federation had temporarily suspended Vinesh Phogat for not practising with the Indian contingent and also not wearing the official singlet of the contingent, and Sonam Mallik for asking a Sports Authority of India (SAI) official to collect her passport from the federation office.

Sources in SAI have told ThePrint that there was friction between senior wrestlers and the federation because senior wrestlers were not participating in national championships. The lack of participation in senior national championship held in December last year was the breaking point.
Late on Wednesday, the sports ministry took cognizance of the protests and asked WFI to furnish a reply to the allegations within 72 hours while cancelling the Women National Coaching Camp in Lucknow that was due to begin 18 January.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

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