‘I Quit Wrestling’, says Teary-Eyed Olympic Champ Sakshi Malik After Brij Bhushan Aide Wins WFI Polls
Wrestler Sakshi Malik during a press conference after Sanjay Singh, an associate of BJP MP and former chief of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, became the new President of WFI, in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. Malik on Thursday announced retirement from wrestling; said she won't compete under presidency of Brij Bhushan's aide. (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)
New Delhi: It was a visual that pierced into the Union government’s pet slogan ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ on Thursday evening. One frame showed a weeping Olympic medal winner wrestler Sakshi Malik announcing that she was quitting the sport in protest, while the other showed a heavily garlanded Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, a BJP MP who was ousted as Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief over charges of sexual harassment, celebrating the victory of his ‘loyalist’ Sanjay Singh as the next chief.
At a press conference here, Malik broke down while announcing her retirement from wrestling after Singh’s “frontman” got elected in the same position held by him.
Malik, flanked by her wrestling colleagues Bajrang Punia, Vinesh and Sangeeta Phogat, who carried out a protest for over 50 days, leading to the ouster of Brij Bhushan, said: "We gathered a lot of courage for this fight against the WFI President (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh). But today, his right hand (referring to Sanjay Singh) has been elected as the new WFI President. We had demanded a woman be made the president, but that has not been fulfilled."
The internationally acclaimed wrestlers sat on dharna this year, went on a fast, and had to face police brutality while protesting in front of the New Parliament Building to get their voices heard. They even threatened to immerse their medals, but were stopped by farmer leader Rakesh Tikait. Incidentally, the Prime Minister has till date not spoken a word about their ordeal and grievances and the BJP MP, Brij Bhushan, accused of sexual misconduct, continues to attend Parliament with aplomb.
At Thursday’s press conference, another female wrestling champion, Sangeeta Phogat said: “The wrestlers didn't get justice.”
"It's unfortunate that such people are getting elected to such positions in the country. Now, girls will be harassed again. It's sad that even after fighting against it, we couldn't bring any changes. I don't know how to get justice in our own country," she added.
Vinesh Phogat feared women wrestlers would now face exploitation again.
Referring to the wrestlers' massive protest against the BJP MP over alleged sexual harassment by him, Punia said the government didn't fulfil its promise.
Recall that the WFI elections were delayed due to the wrestlers’ protest. On Thursday, after elections were eventually held, Sanjay Singh was declared elected with 40 votes against his rival, female wrestler Anita Sheoran.
According to PTI, Singh is a close associate of Brij Bhushan, which was clear by his making his visit to the latter’s house immediately after his victory. Sanjay Singh is vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Wrestling Association and was part of the previous executive council of WFI.
ESPN India reported that Sanjay Singh’s social media accounts show that he clearly has “close ties” with the BJP MP and had backed him during the wrestlers’ protest.
In fact, Brij Bhushan had told PTI earlier that he was “confident that Sanjay Singh would be elected WFI president.
"11 months later, today is the election. In the election, Sanjay Singh, in a way, can be described as a representative of the old federation. Sanjay Singh is sure to win the election, ensuring the formation of a new federation for the children. I urge them to create a conducive sports environment as soon as possible and compensate for any losses," he had told PTI, as quoted by ESPN India.
Wrestler Sakshi Malik had told ESPN India that: "Sanjay Singh is a close associate of Brij Bhushan. The Government has promised us that neither Brij Bhushan nor any of his aides will hold positions in the WFI.”
On Thursday, after the election results, Malik said: "We fought from our heart but if a man like Brij Bhushan, his business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling," while keeping her shoes on the table and making the dramatic announcement.
"We wanted a female president but that did not happen," the 31-year-old, who is also a CWG gold medallist, added.
Ahead of the elections, Olympic medal winning grapplers Bajrang Punia and Sakshi had repeatedly requested Sports Minister Anurag Thakur to stop anyone associated with Brij Bhushan from contesting the WFI polls.
Consequently, neither Brij Bhushan's son Prateek nor son-in-law Vishal Singh entered the fray.
Bajrang and Vinesh Phogat, who addressed the media after elections, did not say whether they will retire from the sport.
(inputs from PTI)
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