Neither Indian sports nor the governing body Sports Authority of India is new to controversies. Flip through the pages of history and one can find several incidents of allegations of sexual harassment being made. At least 45 complaints of sexual harassment were reported in 24 government-run sports institutes in the last decade, according to a report by the Indian Express.
About 29 of the 45 cases filed are against the coaches alone, reveals the report sought through an RTI query. While Indian sports continue to be male-dominated and the sex ratio, particularly in coaching and administration, is almost heavily skewed in favour of men, that in turn provides easy avenues for molestation and harassment.
In most cases, multiple agencies such as event organisers, local police, relevant district, state and national associations, or centre administrators (which is usually SAI) are usually involved. This, however, slows the inquiry process to a crawl and increases the risk of the vulnerability of survivors’ to further harassment. In fact, in cases where the accused were found guilty, they were let off with lenient punishment ranging from transfers to a small cut in pay or pension. Rarely is an offender judged to be guilty of a criminal offence and punished accordingly.
“The number could be higher as, many times, cases against coaches also might have gone unreported,” noted a parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women reports last February. “The committee finds it quite unfortunate that the mentor and guide himself (is) turning the predator,” it further added.
Investigations get affected as most athletes often withdraw their complaints or change their statements, fearing their careers would be impacted, former SAI Director General Jiji Thomson explained. “Most of these girls come from humble backgrounds. So, they are persuaded or pressurised to change their statement or take back their complaints. The girls give in to the fact that their future in sports, which for many is a way out of poverty, is in the hands of the coaches. So they often give up,” Thomson was quoted as saying by Indian Express.
The SAI centres where most complaints have been reported include Hisar, Gandhinagar, Thiruvananthapuram, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Aurangabad to name a few.