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New Twist to WFI Crisis: Junior Wrestlers Demonstrate against Sakshi, Bajrang, Vinesh

New Twist to WFI Crisis: Junior Wrestlers Demonstrate against Sakshi, Bajrang, Vinesh

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 3: Giving a twist to the crisis facing the Wrestling Federation of India which has been suspended by the union sports ministry, hundreds of young wrestlers on Wednesday converged at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi to protest against the three top wrestlers whose agitation against the former chief of the WFI Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh caused his ouster.

The junior wrestlers camouflaged their protest demonstration by highlighting that they blamed the three top wrestlers for causing them to lose one crucial year of their career since most of the wrestling activities in the country suffered due to the agitation by the Olympic and Asian Games medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat.

Loaded in buses, the junior wrestlers arrived from different parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, catching the police unaware. Close to 300 of them came from Arya Samaj Akhara in Chhaprauli, Baghpat while many others came from the Virender Wrestling Academy in Narela. Many others were still packed in buses and they planned to de-board and join their colleagues when more wrestlers arrive at the landmark protest site. The security personnel struggled to control them as they shouted slogans against Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat.

The protesters were carrying banners that read: ‘UWW save our wrestling from these 3 wrestlers’. Those protesting on Wednesday demanded that the suspended WFI be restored after disbanding the ad-hoc panel which has been appointed to run the sport by the sports ministry.

Former India wrestler and Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik promptly accused he former chief Brij Bhushan, a BJP Member of Parliament, for orchestrating the protest against her and the two other medal-winning wrestlers. “I have given years of my life to wrestling and retired recently so you can tell how stressed I am mentally. There is an IT cell of Brij Bhushan on social media. These protestors are his people and running propaganda for him. Brij Bhushan was making allegations against us earlier too during the protest,” said Sakshi to the media in a press conference.

Ironically, almost a year back at the same protest site, the top three wrestlers had managed to draw huge support for their cause when they called for the arrest of former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh after accusing him of sexually harassing women wrestlers. Thousands of people from different sections of society, including farmers groups, social workers, politicians, women’s groups and members of the wrestling fraternity, had come in support Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia.

The three wrestlers are now facing massive protests from within their community with those assembled at Jantar Mantar, accusing them of ruining their careers. Since January 2023, national camps and competitions have been on hold as the WFI has been suspended twice and an ad-hoc panel is running the sport.

Sakshi went on to clarify that they did not have any problem with the newly elected federation, except for the president Sanjay Singh. She also went on to say that she welcomes the suspension of newly-elected federation by the Union Sports Ministry. The wrestler also accused Brij Bhushan of targeting her family.

“We only had a problem with Sanjay Singh. We do not have any problem with the new federation body or the Ad-hoc committee. I request PM Modi ji, and Amit Shah ji to ensure that Sanjay Singh has no involvement in WFI. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure our safety. Brij Bhushan (BJP leader & former WFI chief) is targeting my family,” said Sakshi.

Sakshi said even though she is retiring, she wanted the wrestlers who will play in her 58 kg category to secure a gold or silver in the Paris 2024 Olympics and outdo her bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics. “I request the ad-hoc committee to hold nationals and camps for U15, U17, U20 categories. No youngster should face any issues,” she added.

Sakshi said that it would be great for women wrestlers if women are given some responsibilities in the federation. “I cannot say that I will step into administration. But If there are some women in the federation, it would be good for women wrestlers, Women wrestlers will be able to go and express themselves freely,” she said.

The ad hoc committee for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on Monday announced it would host the National Coaching Camp for Senior Wrestlers in preparation for the forthcoming Asian Olympics qualifying and World qualifying tournament. Along with this, the committee has scheduled the Senior National Championships for wrestling.

The decision was announced following a press release by the ad hoc committee. The senior National Championships will take place from February 2 to 5 in Jaipur and will be orchestrated by the Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB). The tournament will include competitions across senior freestyle, Greco-Roman, and women’s categories, providing a comprehensive platform for wrestlers to showcase their talent.

After the conclusion of the Senior National Championships, the National Coaching Camp (NCC) will be conducted. The men’s camp (encompassing Greco-Roman and free style) will be held at SAI NRC Sonepat, while the women’s camp will be held at SAI NSNIS Patiala. The NCC will select medallist wrestlers from 30 weight divisions across the senior freestyle, Greco-Roman, and women’s categories of the Senior National Championships.

The coaching camp will begin on February 9, 2024, and extend until the Paris Olympics in 2024. The primary focus of the NCC will be rigorous training for the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournaments. These qualifying tournaments include the 2024 Asian Qualification Tournament set to be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from April 19-21, and the 2024 World Qualification Tournament scheduled for Istanbul, Turkey, from May 9-12, 2024.

Additionally, the NCC will prepare athletes for the Senior Asian Championships, which are slated to take place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from April 11-16, 2024. The Union Sports Ministry had earlier suspended the sport’s premier governing body in the country along with all its office-bearers, including the newly-elected president Sanjay Singh and had instructed the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to form an ad hoc committee to manage and control the affairs of the WFI.

 

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