Published14 minutes ago
India’s Supreme Court is set to hear a petition by top wrestlers who have asked for a case to be filed against the chief of the federation governing their sport.
They have been demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Singh over allegations of sexual abuse by several female athletes.
Mr Singh has denied the allegations.
The wrestlers had called off protests in January after the government promised to look into their complaints.
But they relaunched the agitation last week, demanding immediate action against Mr Singh, who is the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and a lawmaker and politician from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The protesters also alleged that the Delhi Police did not register a case against Mr Singh despite several female wrestlers filing complaints accusing him of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation.
The top court said the allegations in the petition were “serious” and asked the Delhi Police for an explanation. The police then said that they needed to do a “preliminary enquiry” before filing a case, adding that they were prepared to do so right away if directed by the court.
On Thursday, PT Usha, president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and one of India’s most prominent athletes, sparked outrage when she accused the protesting wrestlers of tarnishing the country’s image by “protesting on the streets”. She said that they should have approached the IOA’s athletes’ commission instead.
Her comments drew sharp reactions from opposition politicians and the protesting wrestlers.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that India’s image would be tarnished only if the concerns raised by the wrestlers were ignored.
Wrestler Sakshi Malik, an Olympic medallist who is part of the protests, asked how the protests amounted to indiscipline when the protesters were voicing their concerns peacefully. “Being a woman athlete, she isn’t listening to other women athletes,” she said.
The wrestlers have received support from some prominent sportspersons. Neeraj Chopra, who won the gold medal in javelin in the last Olympics, said that it hurt him to see India’s athletes having to demand justice by hitting the streets and urged authorities to deal with the issue in an “impartial and transparent” manner.
Another Olympic medallist, Abhinav Bindra, said that the athletes’ concerns should be “heard and addressed fairly and independently”, while tennis star Sania Mirza said it was “time to now stand with them in this difficult time”.
In January, Vinesh Phogat, one of India’s most decorated women wrestlers, alleged that at least 10 woman wrestlers had told her that they were sexually exploited by Mr Singh. She and other protesters also said that some coaches had misbehaved with athletes and criticised the WFI’s functioning. At the time, the WFI had denied all the allegations made by the wrestlers, including that of sexual misconduct.
The government eventually asked Mr Singh to step aside for a few weeks and formed a panel to oversee the federation’s activities. The IOA also set up a committee to investigate the allegations against Mr Singh.
The committee submitted its report in April but its findings haven’t been made public yet.
The IOA has also set up a panel to oversee the daily functioning of the WFI and hold elections to its executive committee.
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