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Inquilab, not yet zindabad: India’s athletes ask tough questions of failing support system

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And so it ends, for now. Inquilabbut not yet Zindabad.

From Wednesday to Friday evening, something incredible, unprecedented, happened in India. Athletes have sometimes stood up to their tormentors in the administration, but rarely at the level we saw last week. Olympic and World Championship medalists, the biggest names in their sport, take to the streets for three whole days and make one serious accusation after another against the long-term president of their federation – also a sitting member of parliament from the ruling party of India. . Surrealism doesn’t quite cover that.

If it started with a swing that grabbed everyone by the collar and forced them to pay attention, it ended just as unprecedented: well after midnight, on the lawns of the sports minister’s house, the athletes and the minister jointly hold a press conference. The minister announced the appointment of an oversight committee that will not only investigate the complaints, but also manage the federation for the duration of the investigation (deadline: four weeks).

The worries have dissipated, now the wrestlers will return to the mat, preparing for a decisive year ahead, referring to the Olympic Games in Paris next year. But this episode raises many questions, the answers to which should make one think in the corridors of sports power.

The first. Why did the champions of India take to the streets?

The allegations made by the wrestlers – we must remember that they are some of the biggest names in Indian non-cricket sports – were numerous. The main four aspects were: sexual harassment and assault, misappropriation of funds, psychological harassment (Vinesh Phogat and others) and the hiring of incompetent coaches.

According to their website, the Wrestling Federation of India has a five-member anti-sexual harassment committee (including one of the most vocal protesters, Rio Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik). They also have an athletes’ committee (three of the four were leaders of this protest) and a grievance committee (chaired by the WFI president himself).

It is clear that the very fact that the wrestlers speak in public shows that these committees do not have real power. It is also important to note here who they were going up against. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, President of WFI, six-time MP for Uttar Pradesh, a feudal region. An example of this video, taken moments after he landed in his hometown, 24 hours after serious allegations of sexual assault and embezzlement were made against him:

One of the many accusations made by the wrestlers was that he ran the federation like a private fiefdom from his own home. Entering his 12th year in a row as the main boss, his influence on the federation is almost total. Is it really surprising that neither the victims nor the protesters trusted the internal complaints process?

WFI is now a member of the Indian Olympic Association and as a result falls under its jurisdiction. The IOA also has a four-member sexual harassment prevention committee. The complete ineffectiveness of this committee is proven not only by the fact that the victims and protesters did not go to them, but also by the hammer blow of the IOA itself, which created a separate seven-member committee to investigate the allegations.

Now, with the sports ministry appointing an oversight committee just hours after the IOA announced its formation, the question is: How much power does the IOA committee now have?

Not only was the IOA late to the scene – no one from the newly elected executive body or from the athletes’ commission visited the protesters, what’s more, no one even commented on it until PT Usha’s tweet on the afternoon of the second day of the protests – now they seem to were completely thrown aside.

Support system? What kind of support system.

Did no one else come forward?

The first organization to take an active and positive step was the Delhi Women’s Commission. The DCW Chairman took note of the suo moto and sent notices to both the Ministry of Sports and the Delhi Police.

However, what they did was then somewhat offset by the words of the chairman of the National Women’s Commission that she had not received a single complaint and could not do anything. However, the same NCW has tweeted on numerous occasions previously that NCW is taking suo motu attention to all cases brought to their attention.

On top of that, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs made no reply other than silence. on the issue.

Meanwhile, support came from athletes from different sports. World boxing champion Nihat Zarin and Asian Games champion Amit Pangal wrote to support his fellow wrestlers, while former Olympic medalist Vijender Singh sat with protesters on the second day.

What does the defense say?

Sharan Singh went on the offensive from the start; suggesting a conspiracy, accusing the fighters of lies, asking where the victims are [hiding], and, in fact, beating off all criticism. He did so on Wednesday evening in Delhi, but by Friday morning he was back in Gondu. Where he rescheduled his scheduled 4:00 pm press conference for Sunday.

But the absolute pie, however, is WFI’s social media channels (they now tweet exclusively in Hindi), where a lesson in the theater of the absurd is being played out. Try it:

Oh, and this, a retweet of the official WFI descriptor that seems to indicate that everything is perfectly normal from a federation perspective:

What is happening now?

The National Sports Code clearly states that a federation must file a complaint with the relevant authority if any conduct is reported that is a specific offense under the Indian Penal Code (or any other law). Will the ministry heed its own decree and direct the committee that will govern the WFI to file a case against the alleged perpetrators of these crimes with the police?

It is not a matter of choice, but the political affiliation of the defendants makes the answer even more difficult.

However, as difficult and unprecedented as it may be, the solution must be swift.

This is a big year for wrestling: India will be hosting the Asian Championships from March 28 to April 2 this year, and this year’s World Championships (in September in Belgrade) will have added value as a total of 90 quotas will be allocated for the Paris Olympics. there. Not to mention the Asian Games postponed for a year, which will be held around the same time. And that’s just for the cream of the crop – the main structure should also have its regular competitions running like clockwork.

As the wrestlers on Jantar Mantar kept repeating, the last thing they needed right now was a distraction. But the fact that they are willing to risk their careers so publicly should speak volumes.

However, this could be a turning point in Indian sports. In the past nine months alone, there have been five reported cases of sexual harassment (of which we are aware), all more or less hushed up.

This time the athletes spoke so loudly that no one could ignore them. Those in power should have listened, and they did. Whether any real change will come from this remains to be seen – if (and it remains a big if) it does materialize… could this be the start of a domino effect in the Indian sports administration?




Source: www.espn.com