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Wrestling Turmoil: Juniors slam Punia, Malik, Phogat at Jantar Mantar

Source: PTI
Last updated on: January 03, 2024 17:40 IST
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'We are giving 10 days' time to the government to revoke the suspension of the new WFI and allow it to hold age group nationals.'

IMAGE: Junior wrestlers protest against Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photograph: ANI

The ongoing crisis in Indian wrestling took a new twist on Wednesday when hundreds of junior wrestlers assembled at Jantar Mantar for a symbolic three-hour protest against the loss of one crucial year of their careers, a situation for which they blamed top grapplers Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat.


Loaded in buses, the junior wrestlers arrived from different parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, catching the police unawares.

Close to 300 of them came from Arya Samaj Akhara in Chhaprauli, Baghpat while many others came from the Virender Wrestling Academy in Narela. The security personnel struggled to control them as they shouted slogans against Punia, Malik and Phogat.

Braving cold conditions, the junior wrestlers arrived at Jantar Mantar at 11am and left after three hours with a warning that if the government does not lift the Wrestling Federation of India's suspension within 10 days, they will start returning their awards.

The protesters were carrying banners that read: 'UWW (United World Wrestling) save our wrestling from these 3 wrestlers'.

Another banner read: 'Kar Diya Desh Ki Kushti Ko Barbaad: Sakshi Bajrang, Vinesh Phogat'.

Soon after the election of new office-bearers, WFI announced the hosting of the Under-15 and Under-20 Nationals in Gonda, UP but the ministry suspended the body, leading to the cancellation of the proposed tournament.

Several wrestlers, who could have competed in the junior categories for one last time, lost the opportunity.

"It was a symbolic protest. We are giving 10 days' time to the government to revoke the suspension of the new WFI and allow it to hold age group nationals.

Vinesh Phogat

IMAGE: Bhartiya Kisan Union president Naresh Tikait and others give blessings to wrestlers including Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat during their protest last year. Photograph: ANI

"If they don't do it, we will start returning our Arjuna and other awards to the government just like Bajrang and Vinesh have done," said Greco-Roman wrestler Sunil Rana, who is an Arjuna awardee and a bronze medallist from the 2023 Asian Games.

Muzaffarnagar stadium coach Pradeep Kumar said, "More than 90 per cent of Akharas (training centres) in UP are with us in this protest. There are only three wrestlers on one side and lakhs on the other. They have spoilt the careers of lakhs of wrestlers across the country."

"These people have no respect for national awards. They are leaving them on the roads," Kumar added, referring to Punia and Phogat returning their government honours.

"They kept saying that they were protesting for women and junior wrestlers but they have spoilt careers of lakhs after earning all the laurels. Their protest is only to get top WFI posts. Once that happens, they will stop all protests," added Kumar.

Ironically, almost a year back at the same protest site, the top three wrestlers had managed to draw huge support for their cause when they called for the arrest of former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accusing him of sexually harassing women wrestlers.

Thousands of people from different sections of society, including farmers' groups, social workers, politicians, women's groups and members of the wrestling fraternity, came out to support Sakshi, Vinesh and Bajrang.

The three are now facing protests from within their community, with those assembled at Jantar Mantar accusing them of ruining their careers.

"I have given 18-20 years to the sport. Only I know what I have gone through.A lot of wrong things are being said on social media. I have come to know about this protest from you (media). This is Brij Bhushan's propaganda. These are all his men who are protesting at jantar mantar," said Sakshi when her reaction was sought on junior wrestlers' protest.

Meanwhile, Bajrang said he "won't lend any credence" to the Wednesday's protest by commenting on it.

Source close to Tokyo Games bronze medallist Bajrang said, "These are all Brij Bhushan's supporters. Where were they when we were sitting on protest. They did not think about wrestling then?"

 Since January 2023, national camps and competitions have been on hold as the WFI has been suspended twice and an ad-hoc panel is running the sport.

"An entire year for these junior wrestlers has gone waste. The new WFI had taken the decision for the welfare of the wrestlers who had not seen even district or state-level competitions, leave aside the nationals," said Vivek Malik who belongs to the Arya Samaj Akhara in Baghpat.

"But the new body was suspended. This body was elected on the instructions of the court but it wasn't allowed to work and prove itself even for three days. The suspension should be lifted and the WFI should be allowed to function.

"They had the task of completing the wrestling calender before December 31, so what wrong did they do to warrant the suspension?" he asked.

Those protesting on Wednesday demanded that the suspended WFI be restored after disbanding the ad-hoc panel, which has been appointed by the sports ministry.

The protesters also defaced the placards bearing images of Punia, Malik and Phogat before trampling them.

In a memorandum, Sunil Rana, coach Naresh Dahiya, wrestlers Nikki and Varun Gujjar apart from Rajendra 'pehlwan', demanded that "the government should listen to not just the three wresters but the entire fraternity.

"We request that the government lifts WFI suspension and take strict action against the wrestlers who insulted the government honours by leaving their awards on the road."

Punia had returned his Padma Shri while Vinesh had returned her Arjuna and Khel Ratna awards, saying that these awards mean nothing when they are struggling to get justice.

The ad-hoc panel announced that it will organise Under-15 and Under-20 Nationals within six weeks in Gwalior and advised the protesting wrestlers to continue training and practising for Nationals.

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