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Sports Ministry suspends newly elected WFI body as Brij Bhushan distances himself from fiasco

Following up on the directive to the WFI, the ministry sent a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), asking them to create an ad-hoc committee to manage the WFI.
Last Updated 24 December 2023, 05:52 IST

New Delhi: With mounting outrage over the win in the elections to the Wrestling Federation of India registered by a candidate who had the tacit support of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, former WFI chief who is accused of sexual harassment by athletes, the union sports ministry on Sunday intervened to suspend the body. On the same day, BJP chief J P Nadda summoned Singh, who then dissociated himself from the federation. The move came amid speculations that he will resign from his Lok Sabha membership.

The sports ministry, in a directive, said that the newly-elected “appears to be in complete control of former office bearers”. “The business of the Federation is being run from the premises controlled by former office bearers … which is also (the) alleged premises wherein sexual harassment of the players have been alleged and present the court is hearing the matter,” a letter signed by Tarun Pareek, under secretary to the Government of India, read.

In the letter, the ministry also said that the body made a “hasty” announcement of organising the U-15 and U-20 nationals, which it said was against the rules since a minimum notice of 15 days needs to be given so that the wrestlers can prepare.

“This announcement is hasty, without giving sufficient notice to wrestlers who are to take part in the said nationals and without following the provisions of the constitution of WFI,” the ministry said, adding that these actions smack of “complete arbitrariness”.

Following up on the directive to the WFI, the ministry sent a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), asking them to create an ad-hoc committee to manage the WFI.

Brij Bhushan, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several athletes, had brazened it out for months in the absence of any action by the Centre. Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia have been at the forefront of protests against him, which led to the WFI promising free and fair elections only to have Sanjay Singh, his aide, being elected to the post. In protest, Sakshi, an Olympic medallist, announced her retirement in tears, while Punia returned his Padma Shri award.

On the same day, party president J P Nadda also summoned him ostensibly to control the crisis, as the protests by the wrestlers had the potential to hurt the BJP among Jats, a voter base the party is keen to woo in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

After his meeting with Nadda, Bhushan addressed the press and said he was retiring from wrestling and will now put his energies into the upcoming general elections.

“I served wrestling for 12 years, good or bad only time will tell. I have taken retirement from wrestling. Now whatever decision has to be taken – to liaise with the government or handle the legal processes – will be taken by the elected members. The Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and I have to move ahead,” Bhushan said.

Sanjay Singh, the newly-elected president of WFI, said that he will speak to the PM and the sports minister. “Brij Bhushan has retired, Sakshi Malik has retired … The matter should now be put to rest. We will speak to the Central government – PM Modi and the Sports Minister – with some executive members of WFI. The future of children is getting ruined,” Singh said.

Bhushan, who holds sway across 10-15 seats in Eastern UP, started out during LK Advani’s Rath Yatra by volunteering to drive the rath. He also holds considerable clout among priests in the Ayodhya belt.

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(Published 24 December 2023, 05:52 IST)

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