Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan voice concern for India’s protesting wrestlersuniquemytrip.com

Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan have become the first cricketers to break their silence on the protests being carried out by India’s top wrestlers demanding the dismissal of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Indian wrestling federation chief. The wrestlers have alleged that Singh sexually abused and exploited women wrestlers over the past decade.

On Friday afternoon, the Delhi Police agreed to investigate the charges against Singh, a week after the complaint was first filed and only after the wrestlers moved the Supreme Court for action. But the wrestlers’ larger mission is to remove Singh from his position as federation chief, and to draw attention to the charges against him.

“Will they ever get justice,” Kapil asked in an Instagram post with a photograph of Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik – the latter two Olympic medalists – who have been leading a protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for the past five days. They were part of a group of 30-odd wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in January this year, too, when they made public the allegations against Singh, a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Following that, the union sports ministry, of which former BCCI president Anurag Thakur is the man in charge, tasked its oversight committee to investigate the matter and submit the findings by February. The committee included, among others, boxer MC Mary Kom and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, both Olympic Games medallists (Mary Kom is also a former member of parliament). Reports suggest that even two months on, the findings of the oversight committee have not been made available to the wrestlers.

Support for the wrestlers had been extremely limited all along. On Thursday, PT Usha, the champion athlete on the 1980s who is now the president of the Indian Olympic Association, said that the conduct of the protesting wrestlers amounted to “indiscipline” and that it was “not good for sport”. Her comments were met with severe public criticism and Punia expressed disappointment at the “harsh reaction”.

Then, on Friday, Phogat issued a plea of sorts to the Indian cricket community, asking why they had been silent on the plight of their fellow sportspersons.

“You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there’s something fishy going on there too?”

Vinesh Phogat

“The entire country worships cricket but not even a single cricketer has spoken up,” the Indian Express quoted Phogat as saying. “We aren’t saying that you speak in our favour, but at least put up a neutral message and say there should be justice for whichever party. This is what pains me… Be it cricketers, badminton players, athletics, boxing…

“It’s not like we don’t have big athletes in our country. There are cricketers… During the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, they showed their support. Don’t we deserve even that much?

“You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there’s something fishy going on there too?”

While Kapil’s message had come a day before, on Thursday, Harbhajan tweeted on Friday, “I am pained as a sportsperson to find pride of our country coming out to protest on the streets”, while Sehwag wrote, “It’s a sensitive matter and needs an impartial investigation”, and Pathan said, “Indian athletes are always our pride not only when they get medals for us…”.

At the time of filing this report, no current Indian cricketers had spoken on the issue.

Phogat’s appeal did get a response on Friday from some of India’s most celebrated athletes, who tweeted out their support for the protesting wrestlers.

“What’s happening [the street protests] should never have happened,” Neeraj Chopra, the Olympic javelin throw champion, said. “This is a sensitive issue, and must be dealt with in an impartial and transparent manner.” And Nikhat Zareen, the two-time world champion boxer, wrote, “It breaks my heart to see our Olympic & World medallists in this state.”

A day before, Abhinav Bindra, the shooter who won India’s first individual gold medal at an Olympic Games back in 2008, tweeted, “It is deeply concerning to see our athletes finding it necessary to protest on the streets regarding the allegations of harassment in the Indian wrestling administration.”


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