Usha on wrestlers' protest: Indiscipline, 'not good for sport'

PT Usha, IOA President Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on Thursday set up a three-member ad-hoc committee to handle the day-to-day affairs of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). On the same day, at roughly the same time, the IOA president PT Usha issued a stinging rebuke to the wrestlers protesting against the mess in the federation - and especially the allegations of sexual abuse against its head - by saying the wrestlers should have shown discipline and not taken their protest to the streets.

"Thoda toh discipline hona chahiye (there should be some discipline)," she said after a meeting of the IOA's Executive Committee. "Instead of coming to us they have gone straight to the streets. It's not good for sport. Our feeling is that for sexual harassment complaints, IOA has a committee and athletes' commission. Instead of going to the street (again), they should have come to us, but they have not at all come to IOA."

These were Usha's first comments on the issue since January 19 - but they were inaccurate: The IOA had formed a seven-member committee on January 20, led by Mary Kom, to investigate the wrestlers' claims when the protests had first begun. This committee was overshadowed when, days later, the sports ministry announced its own committee - but there has been no sign of the IOA's committee since (although Kalyan Chaubey, AIFF President and Joint Secretary of the IOA maintained on Thursday that the investigation was ongoing, but did not make it clear if it was the IOA's committee or that of the sports ministry).

Reacting to Usha's comments, Bajrang Punia, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist and one of the protesting wrestlers, said: "She herself was an athlete and she is also a woman. We did not expect this harsh reaction from her, we expected support."

The IOA's ad-hoc committee constituted today comprises Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa and a retired High Court judge, who will be named in the coming days. The committee will conduct the WFI elections within 45 days starting from Thursday.

Suma is the national shooting coach and will represent the IOA's Sportspersons of Outstanding Merit, while Bajwa is the president of the Wushu Association of India and India's chef-de-mission for the 2023 Asian Games. He will represent the IOA's Executive Council.

The decision follows a directive on Monday from the sports ministry. Today, sports minister Anurag Thakur listed his and his ministry's actions in the issue:

  • The government gave "ample chance" to the protesting wrestlers to present their case before the oversight committee.

  • "I have spent 12 hours with them (protesting wrestlers) -- seven hours on the first day and five hours the next day. I had listened to all their grievances, held a press conference at 2-2.30 at night, formed a committee after talking to them.

  • "They had asked to add a member and gave Babita Phogat's name and we added her to the committee."

  • "Whoever wanted to present their version before the oversight committee, was given a chance to do so, there were no restrictions. We even increased the timeline of the probe, there were 14 meetings. Whoever wanted to come, came."

He said the major findings of the committee were that an impartial election of WFI takes place, and till that time an ad-hoc committee takes over the affairs of WFI, and the elections be held within 45 days. Also, an internal complaints committee would be formed to address any mental, sexual harassment complaint.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the wrestlers' petition seeking action in the case against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The wrestlers had filed a complaint with the Delhi police last week detailing sexual abuse charges against Singh but their complaint was yet to be turned into an FIR.

India's top-most wrestlers - Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik - have been on a public protest since Sunday in New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, their second this year. On Wednesday, they appealed to prime minister Narendra Modi and the minister in his cabinet in charge of women's affairs to consider their case.

The wrestlers also sought time from Modi to discuss the sexual harassment allegations they have levelled against the WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is an MP of his party, the BJP.

Meanwhile, Brij Bhushan also reacted to the developments on Thursday. In a video message, the BJP MP, said, "Friends, the day I reflect on my life, what I gained or lost, the day I feel I don't have the strength to fight, the day I feel helpless, I won't like to live a life like that. Instead of living such a life, I would wish that death embraces me."