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Wrestlers v/s WFI - A detailed look at the timeline of protests

Take a look at a detailed timeline on the key events that took place around the Indian wrestlers' protests against the WFI.

Wrestlers v/s WFI - A detailed look at the timeline of protests

Indian wrestlers at Jantar Mantar as they restart their protest (Pritish Raj/TheBridge)


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 27 April 2023 4:31 PM GMT

On 23rd April, 2023, prominent Indian wrestlers led by Olympians Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia took to Jantar Mantar to protest against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

However, this is not the first time the grapplers are laying mats on the streets and speaking to the media on the roads, accusing the top brass of the WFI of harassment and maltreatment.

It was more than three months back in January this year when these very wrestlers came out publicly and spoke about the same issues for the first time.

It has been three months since and nothing seems to have changed changed. There have been a lot of twists and turns in this wrestling bout between India's finest and the men at the top, and here's a simple yet detailed timeline of the events which unfolded since Day 1.

18th January, 2023: In a never-seen-before moment, Indian wrestlers, led by Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, staged a protest against the totalitarian nature of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president Singh.

"Our fight is not against the government or Sports Authority of India (SAI). This is against WFI. We will share details later in the day. 'Yeh ab aar paar ki ladai hai' (It's a fight to the finish)," Bajrang Punia had said.

Moreover, World Championships medallist Vinesh levelled allegations of sexual harassment against the WFI president, citing how the coaches, along with him would behave inappropriately with the female wrestlers.

"I can name at least 10 girls who were sexually harassed and molested in the national camps. Nobody comes forward because of the fear. A few of the girls sitting here alongside me too have faced it," Vinesh had said during their initial sit-down.

A few hours after the wrestlers came out with these complaints, the Sports Ministry asked the federation to come up with an explanation within 72 hours of the allegations made.

19th January, 2023: Divya Kakran, the two time Commonwealth Games medallist, came out in support of Brij Bhushan just a day after her colleagues accused of the BJP MP of the aforementioned actions. Kakran called these allegations "wrong".

Former wrestler Babita Phogat, a current BJP leader, was handed the role of mediating between the protesting wrestlers and the government. This was done after the aggrieved grapplers demanded the disbandment of the WFI, and demanded a fresh federation.

Like other matters in the country, this too had political parties jumping on the board and adding political flavour to the issue. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had echoed the wrestlers' demands of Brij Bhushan resigning as the president, saying how the failure to do so would be the ruling party providing safety to their member.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) also made a statement, saying how the wrestlers could approach the body in the matters of sexual harassment allegations.

20th January, 2023: In the early hours of this day, the wrestlers had a four-hour long, inconclusive meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur. While Thakur gave the athletes assurances, the wrestlers refused to call off their protests.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal branded the lack of action against the WFI officials as "extremely shameful".

Bajrang Punia came out and rubbished claims that there was a political flavour to the protests. On the other hand, president Singh told the media how he won't budge from his seat and reiterated how there's a conspiracy against him. Singh's son Prateek relayed to the media how his father would respond to the allegations in a statement on 22nd January at the federations Annual General Meeting.

The Indian Olympic Association formed a seven-member committee to look into the matters raised by the wrestlers. The committee, headed by Mary Kom, included Yogeshwar Dutt, Dola Banerjee, Sahdev Yadav, Talish Ray, Shlok Chandra, and Alaknanda Ashok.

21st January, 2023: The wrestlers, after about four days of being at Jantar Mantar, called off their protests after assurances given to them by Anurag Thakur.

Thakur also announced how the Sports Ministry would form an Oversight committee to look into the sexual harassment allegations and corruption charges slapped against the WFI administration.

Moreover, the Ministry also suspended WFI's Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar, who had termed the allegations against Brij Bhushan as baseless.

22nd January, 2023: The AGM meeting of the WFI, where Singh was supposed to respond to the allegations, was called off as per the Sports Ministry's directive to suspend the federation's ongoing activities.

Congress leader Bhupinder Singh let known his wish to file a defamation case against Brij Bhushan for dragging his son Deepender's and his own name into the sexual harassment charges.

Moments after the AGM meeting was called off, the Brij Bhushan took to his Twitter account to urge the people to choose against posting objectionable slogans on social media which may hurt others.

23rd January, 2023: The Oversight committee was announced, with Mary Kom leading the five-member team which included Yogeshwar Dutt, Trupti Murgunde, Rajagopalan, and Radhika Sreeman. This committee, appointed by the government, was given the duty to run the federation for a month.

24th January, 2023: A day after the Oversight committee was announced, the wrestlers alleged that the same was done without consulting them, whereas they were assured that their opinion would be taken into account before appointing this team.

26th January, 2023: Protesting wrestlers Vinesh, Bajrang, Sakshi Malik, and others named in Zagreb Open squad.

27th January, 2023: Just a day after being named in the squad, eight wrestlers including Phogat and Punia pulled out of the Zagreb Open, citing how they weren't feeling a 100%.

31st January, 2023: Babita Phogat joined the Oversight Committee as the sixth member of the team.

23rd February, 2023: The Oversight committee, which was supposed to submit their report on this day, four weeks after it was formed on 23rd January, got their deadline extended. Now, they were supposed to submit their findings by March 9.

24th February, 2023: The Sports Ministry expressed displeasure with Vinesh, Bajrang, Sakshi, and others for pulling out of international events despite being named in the squads.

27th February, 2023: Vinesh Phogat accuses one of the "sportsperson members" of the Oversight committee for leaking information regarding the complaints made by the wrestlers against the WFI.

28th February, 2023: Brij Bhushan rejects all the sexual harassment allegations made against him as he stood in front of the Oversight committee.

12th March, 2023: Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha reveals that the IOA report on the allegations weren't ready as the committee was taking time as it was a sensitive issue."

14th March, 2023: Bajrang Punia was left infuriated after a media report suggested that the protesting wrestlers had not submitted enough evidence to provide substantial support to their sexual harassment allegations against the WFI.

16th April, 2023: WFI president Brij Bhushan confirmed that he would not be standing for the president's post in the WFI elections to be held in May, as he would have completed 12 years at the topmost chair, and one isn't allowed to do that after the period is finished according to the Sports Code.

However, Singh did hint at contesting for another post in the federation.

17th April, 2023: The WFI hosts U17 Cadet National Championships in Gonda - the home turf of Brij Bushan Sharan Singh, who sat atop a throne and watched the proceedings.

23rd April, 2023: Vinesh, Bajrang, and co. restart their protests against the WFI after a bunch of female wrestlers have filed FIRs against WFI officials at the Connaught Place police station.

They spend the night at Jantar Mantar refusing to budge from their stance.

24th April, 2023: The wrestlers ask for support from fellow athletes, elders, and Khap Panchayats. They stress that political games were played with them and that calling off the protest in January was a mistake.

The wrestlers approach the Supreme Court regarding the failure to register FIR against WFI chief Brij Bushan Sharan Singh.

The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs terms the WFI elections to be held on 7th May 2023 void. It asks the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to step to handle the daily affairs of the federation and conduct fresh elections in 45 days.

Shiv Sharma, the SAI Deputy Director General was present at the protest site, and was seen speaking to Vinesh Phogat at length regarding the matters.

25th April, 2023: In a huge boost for the wrestlers, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the plea filed by the wrestlers against WFI President Brij Bhushan. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrchud has termed the allegations as serious and worth an intervention by the apex court.

Sakshi Malik claims oversight committee member Babita Phogat was forced to sign the investigation report without having a chance to read it. Babita, on her parts, accuses fellow member Radhika Sreeman of "snatching the report from her" and "working on behest of committee chairman Mary Kom."

26th April, 2023: The protests intensify as politicians and Khap Panchayat leaders start flocking down to Jantar Mantar to show solidarity with the protestors.

The wrestlers conduct a candle march to showcase their support with the victims of sexual harassment.

27th April, 2023: IOA forms a three-member committee as asked by the Sports Ministry with Suma Shirur and Bhupendra Singh Bajwa as members.

IOA President PT Usha lashes out at the wrestlers for indiscipline and tarnishing the country's image with the protests. Sports Minister Anurag Thakur speaks on the issue for the first time, states wrestlers were given ample time and he spent hours with them.

Wrestlers unimpressed with statements from both Usha and Thakur. They retaliate with Vinesh accusing Usha of not reaching out to them even once and Bajrang stating they were intimidated in their meeting with the Sports Minister.

A former physiotherapist with the Indian national wrestling team, Paramjeet Malik, reveals that female wrestlers had complained about sexual harassment from Brij Bushan Sharan Singh way back in 2014.

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