Pathetic pandemonium

Pathetic pandemonium

Last year in June, the Cycle Federation of India came under immense public criticism after a female cyclist alleged misappropriate behaviour by a coach. And now, two-time World Championship medal winner in wrestling, Vinesh Phogat, has burst out with grave allegations of sexual harassment by the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and a host of other “favoured” coaches. Vinesh claims to be in knowledge of several female athletes who have been sexually harassed by authorities. Vinesh’s allegations have come under the major spotlight, as they are graver than other charges made by a bunch of other athletes. Her allegations extend far beyond the administrative functioning of the federation. As things stand today, the number of protestors is swelling at Jantar Mantar as wrestlers — veterans and new — along with their supporters swarm in large numbers to the protest site. As the main accused, the president of WFI, happens to be a Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian, the issue was deemed to get politicised. India’s ace wrestlers, however, have clarified that they have no qualms against the government or the sports ministry and that their protest is largely centred around bringing the federation down to save the future of wrestling in India. A politician belonging to one of the opposition parties was reportedly kept away from the stage by wrestlers to avoid the matter from being politicised. It is no mystery that similar allegations against different sports bodies have been made in the past as well. The surfacing of the WFI crisis certainly reflects a deeper malaise. The lashing out of India’s prime athletes and Olympians is a bold and significant move against this context. The WFI president has been in the position for three consecutive terms spanning around a decade. He is also a six-time Member of Parliament (MP) — five times on a BJP ticket and a single time on a Samajwadi Party ticket. Add to it the paramount influence he wields at the federation. It must have taken some courage and conviction to speak out against him. It is true that the allegations against the WFI chief are just allegations as of now, but those need to be taken under strict consideration. The Union Ministry of Sports gave an ultimatum of 72 hours, ending today, for the WFI to come up with a clarification. Officials from the ministry also met with the protesting athletes, though the latter were not convinced by the response. A diligent and impartial investigation is the need of the hour. And, for that to happen, as demanded by the protesting wrestlers, the WFI president should step down from his position for the time being. Obviously, the WFI president has denied the allegations of sexual harassment. And, in a way, he also discarded the other alleged irregularities in the administration, by saying that 97 per cent of the wrestlers are with the federation (because they didn’t participate in the protest at the time of the statement). This is not a proper justification for two reasons. Firstly, those who didn’t come on the streets cannot be presumed to be in favour of the WFI. Secondly, even if three per cent were protesting, their voices need to be heard in full sincerity — not to forget that those protesting represent the creamy layer of Indian wrestling and have made the country proud on the global stage. Given the value they have brought to the field of wrestling through their hard work and perseverance, their voices are the last thing that can be side-lined. Most importantly, even if a single wrestler complains of something as grave as sexual harassment, the matter should be dealt with utmost sensitivity towards the complainant. It is unfortunate that such allegations are wrongly related to the prestige of the accused. Rather, those should be dealt with professionally and appropriate action should be taken in accordance with the outcome of the investigation. Self-repression of sexual harassment complaints — at any level — needs to be disincentivised. Dual victimisation of the complainant should be avoided at all costs, and heaven must not fall on the accused just because an investigation has begun against him/her. Apart from the sexual harassment allegations, other allegations of maladministration also need to be addressed soon. Whatever the reason, it is pathetic to see those who have made the country proud bursting into tears on the streets.

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