• Monday, May 27, 2024


India wrestlers risk Olympic medals by protesting on streets against federation chief

The renowned wrestlers have staged protests while some of the world’s top tournaments, including next year’s Olympic Games, are not too far away.

Indian wrestlers Sakshi Malik (R), Vinesh Phogat (C) and Bajrang Punia (C,L) speak during a candlelight vigil to protest against the sport’s local federation chief over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation, in New Delhi on May 23, 2023. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

They were supposed to train hard for upcoming international tournaments and would have been at the peak of their training regime at the moment. But India’s renowned wrestlers, who have made the country proud on a number of world platforms, including the Olympics, over the last many years, are now losing precious time protesting on the roads.

Vinesh Phogat, for instance, has won bronze at the World Championships twice in 2019 and 2022 and she has the chance to better it this year. But instead of preparing herself mentally and physically for the big occasion due in another few months, the 28-year-old wrestler has been spending nights on a dusty pavement in Delhi and in blistering heat, the BBC reported. She is also getting inadequate sleep and is exposed to constant noise, an ambience which is far from perfect from a medal-aspiring athlete.

Phogat and some of India’s accomplished wrestlers, including some Olympic medal winners such as Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, are staging an iron-willed protest against the chief of India’s wrestling federation, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, over alleged sexual harassment and abuse of female wrestlers, including a minor.

Singh, who is also a parliamentarian from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has been questioned by the Delhi Police but denied the allegations and said the protests were politically motivated, the report added.

The protests, that have completed a month this week, have threatened India’s chances of winning a medal in wrestling in the upcoming tournaments and the athletes have been left demotivated.

The Olympic Games are also due next year and the current situation could jeopardise India’s prospects in that as well. India has won seven medals in Olympics so far, six of which have come since the 2008 edition.

“The entire country has pinned its hopes on us to get another medal – and we really want to – but here we are, sitting for 30 days with no resolution,” Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze at the 2020 Olympics held in Tokyo in 2021 due to the pandemic, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The International Olympic Committee earmarks a few events every year as qualification events for the quadrennial games. The World Championship in September is that event for wrestling, essentially making it a gateway for the Paris games next year, Rudraneil Sengupta, author of Enter the Dangal: Travels through India’s Wrestling Landscape, told the news outlet.

While the athletes have said they are continuing with their training at the protest site, the experts feel it might not be adequate.

“Wrestling is an extremely physically demanding sport. You have to be in extreme condition to be at the best level, and that requires you to be constantly in practice,” Sengupta told the BBC.

According to him, a player is likely to lose in the first 30 seconds without the necessary conditioning irrespective of their skills.

Punia said they have already missed out on some key tournaments, adding that while people say that they are protesting for personal gains, not getting to compete is the worst thing that could happen to a sportsperson.

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