New Delhi: The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections, which were held on Thursday (21 December), have sparked a wave of protests and discontent among the wrestlers. Sanjay Singh, a close associate of BJP MP and outgoing WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, was elected as the new president of the federation, defeating three other candidates¹². Many wrestlers have accused the election process of being unfair and biased, and have demanded a woman president to address the issue of sexual harassment in the sport.
One of the most vocal critics of the WFI elections was Sakshi Malik, the bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She broke down in tears after the results were announced, and declared that she was quitting wrestling. She said that she and many other wrestlers had slept on the streets for 40 days to demand a fair and transparent election, but their efforts were in vain. She also said that she was grateful to the country for the awards and recognition she had received, but she could not continue to wrestle under the current federation.
Sakshi Malik also raised the concern that there was no representation of women in the WFI executive committee, despite their demand for a woman president. She said that a woman president would ensure that there was no harassment of female wrestlers and that they would get equal opportunities and respect. She said that the fight for justice and dignity would continue and that the new generation of wrestlers would have to take up the challenge.
Another prominent wrestler who expressed her dissatisfaction with the WFI elections was Vinesh Phogat, the gold medalist at the 2018 Asian Games. She said that she had very low expectations from the new federation, but she hoped that they would get justice. She said that it was sad that the future of wrestling was in darkness, and that they had no one to share their sorrow with. She said that they were still fighting for their rights and their sport.
Sanjay Singh, the newly elected WFI president, has a long association with Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been the president of the federation since 2009. Sanjay Singh became the district president of the Varanasi Wrestling Association in 2008, and then the vice president of the Uttar Pradesh Wrestling Association in 2009, when Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh became the state president. Sanjay Singh is also the business partner of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and has been accused of being involved in several corruption cases.
The WFI elections were delayed several times due to allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and were finally held on December 21 after the Supreme Court vacated the stay order issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The elections were conducted by a three-member ad hoc committee appointed by the Indian Olympic Association, under the supervision of a retired judge of the High Court. The results of the elections were announced on the same day and were met with protests and outrage by many wrestlers.