India’s sports ministry said Friday it would investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
Sports Minister Anurag Thakur announced the forming of an oversight committee to look into the claims following a meeting with several leading wrestlers demanding an inquiry.
The wrestlers have been protesting for the past three days in the Indian capital of New Delhi and have called for the dismissal of WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and the dissolution of the WFI.
The WFI has denied all the allegations.
Olympic wrestler Vinesh Phogat and four others have said they’re speaking on behalf of the accusers to protect their identity and have not publicly released details about the young wrestlers’ accusations.
Sports Minister Thakur said in a joint press conference alongside the wrestlers in the capital New Delhi that the “serious allegations, be it charges of financial irregularities or charges of sexual harassment, will be probed.”
“The committee will see all the day-to-day workings till the investigation completes, and till then Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh will step aside and cooperate with the investigation,” the minister added.
Thakur’s announcement came after a second round of talks between the minister and wrestlers.
The committee has four weeks to complete the inquiry, Thakur said.
He added that the names for the oversight committee would be announced Saturday.
India’s Olympic Association also launches probe
Welcoming the announcement, Olympic wrestler Bajrang Punia, who attended the meeting, said, “The union sports minister listened to our demands and has assured us that a proper investigation will be done. I thank him and we are hopeful that a fair probe will be done, hence we are calling off the protest.”
Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) will also set up a seven-member panel to investigate the allegations against Singh, according to CNN affiliate CNN News 18.
“We will ensure a complete investigation to ensure justice,” IOA president PT Usha tweeted Friday, urging athletes to come forward and voice their concerns.
Several Indian wrestlers had written to the IOA, demanding the formation of an inquiry committee to investigate the allegations.
In a letter addressed to the president of the IOA and shared on Twitter, five wrestlers say “several young wrestlers” have raised serious complaints of “sexual harassment” against the WFI president.
CNN reached out to the WFI for comment and Vinod Tomar, the federation’s assistant secretary, denied all the accusations.
“An inquiry is going on,” Tomar added. “These are allegations only and are yet to be proved.”
CNN also reached out to WFI President Singh and his office declined to comment at the time.
On Friday, the WFI chief had scheduled a press conference, but he did not turn up. Instead, his son Pratik Bhushan Singh told reporters, “We’ve given our official statement to (the) sports ministry.”
The WFI chief has also postponed “until further notice” a press conference that was scheduled for Sunday.
In the letter to the IOA, Phogat and her fellow wrestlers said “it has taken a lot of courage for the wrestlers to come together” and file their complaints against Singh, who is a member of the Indian Parliament with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“We fear for our lives,” they added.
Female wrestlers speak up
Phogat, the first female Indian wrestler to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, tweeted Wednesday, “The players want self-respect,” adding that “if the federation does not support them, the morale breaks down.”
In a statement on Twitter, politician Babita Kumari Phogat, a former female wrestler and three-time Commonwealth Games medalist, said she stands with her fellow wrestlers.
“I am with my players in this fight. I have full faith in the government that it will do justice to the sportspersons of the country who raise the country’s honor in the world,” she said.