Black day in Indian sporting history; govt must break silence: Deepender Hooda

Hooda tells The New Indian that the wrestlers want to keep their agitation apolitical and thus he would refrain from visiting the protest site. Will raise issue in Parliament, or hit the streets when needed, he assures protesters

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By: Anand Singh
Updated: 19 January, 2023 2:50 pm IST

The ongoing agitation by the country’s top wrestlers at Jantar Mantar has brought attention to the adverse condition under which our best Olympians train to bring us international laurels. Vinesh Phogat’s allegations of sexual harassment against BJP MP and the Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh have triggered a massive protest by the wrestling community, who are demanding action against WFI and those who run it.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Deependar Singh Hooda has been a vocal supporter of the protesters. He has demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe into the allegations against Sharan.

The New Indian’s Assistant Editor Anand Singh speaks to Hooda on how the Opposition is planning to take the issue up and how will this whole controversy impact Wrestling and women’s participation in it.

Excperts from the interview.

Since January 18 top Indian wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Anshu Malik, and Bajrang Punia have been protesting at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi demanding attention on their allegations against Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Kaiserganj and the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, of sexual, mental harassment and physical abuse. What do you have to say about this?

“This is a black day in our sporting history. There have never been such serious allegations by such an eminent group of sports persons. 60 percent of our Olympic medalists are sitting there. These are the sports persons who have got glory to us in Olympics, nation games and commonwealth games, at world meets.”

What kind of impact will these allegations have?

“Maximum medals are coming from wrestling. We don’t get much press publicity like cricket. But we are getting the most Olympic medals in wrestling. Once such allegations are made, the government must act. The silence by the government is deafening. So far neither the govt of India nor the Haryana govt or any minister has come out and said anything. Govt should outline the actions it is going to take.

What do you think should be done?

They should dismiss the wrestling federation chief along with coaches against whom similar allegations have been made. Cases should be registered under proper criminal sections of the Indian Penal Code. We demand that independent inquiry should be conducted by CBI and monitored by SC so that truth emerges in a time-bound manner. The guilty should be given exemplary punishment. Faith in our nation’s sports system should be restored.

How will it affect women’s participation in sports?

It took a lot of effort over the years for the sports system to convince parents to send their daughters to sports in our state and also in our country. Now all this is unraveling. 15 days back similar allegations were made against the sports minister of Haryana by another international-level woman athlete. When such serious allegations are made against people in positions of power, the government can’t keep quiet. Govt of Haryana came in defense of the sports minister at the time, so it is very unfortunate. The government and the prime minister should take note.

How are you planning to lend support to the protesting wrestlers?

I spoke to them over the phone. We are fully supporting them. At the dharna site, they want to keep it apolitical. They want to fight their own battles. The opposition can support morally but not at the dharna site at the moment because we honor the wrestlers’ desire to keep it apolitical. So, I am not going to the dharna site today but whatever support they seek we will give. We stand with them. We will raise our voice in the parliament or hit the streets – whatever is necessary.

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