THE Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has acted in the most prudent and prompt manner to form a seven-member committee to probe into the serious allegations of sexual harassment made by top wrestlers against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and several coaches. The wrestling community’s bout with the federation chief and coaches, who are accused of harassing many young women athletes at camps, has now come to a critical juncture where the overall issue of female players’ safety in all sporting disciplines is back in focus.
The protest and the subsequent adamant stand adopted by the federation chief is set to snowball into a bigger controversy with all political strings attached. It is, therefore, needed urgently to separate the political fault-lines from the actual problem at hand. That nearly 200 wrestlers including Olympic medal winners Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, apart from Commonwealth Games medallist Vinesh Phogat are on warpath against the chief provides extreme seriousness to the allegations levelled. It must be investigated in a free and fair manner at all levels to go to the root of the problem. Ignoring the champions would send a poor message to the sporting community in the country, especially the women players, who have been giving a wonderful account of their talent at different levels.
The IOA has done really well to immediately constitute a panel comprising top players like MC Mary Kom and Yogeshwar Dutt. Its chief PT Usha needs a special mention for providing a quick hearing to the players’ grievances and ensuring a thorough investigation. The ball is now firmly in the court of the Sports Ministry to take swift steps in pacifying the protesters and bringing to book the real culprits. Sexual exploitation of female players is a scourge that has afflicted all sporting disciplines. The wrestlers’ courage to take to streets in a bunch must be lauded by the entire sporting community. A united front by the entire community would ensure a deep investigation into the nasty issue which has dogged sports for too long.
Sexual abuse of female sportspersons is a dirty phenomena across the globe. Each case has seen different angles and treatments. In India, the problem has been rampant but hardly surfaces because of the stigma attached with sexual exploitation. The biggest impediment in such allegations is the problem to prove charges. In most cases no action has been taken against the accused for lack of evidence. As per an RTI query, 45 complaints of sexual harassment were reported to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) between 2010 and 2020. Of these 29 were against coaches. However, in several of the reported cases the accused were let off leniently with punishments like transfers or pay cut. Either it was collusion of the decision-makers of sheer lack of steam in the cases.
Legal safeguards for the victims are too fragile that results in the cases dragging on for years with no resolution in sight. Then there is the issue of compromises that the players make in search of personal glory. They are forced to endure harassment of all sorts in the process. The women wrestlers have spoken out against the dark underbelly of sports. They must be protected.