Govt buys peace with wrestlers; gains knee-jerk face saver

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New Delhi, January 21: The Wrestling Federation of India chairman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh claimed that wrestlers were up in arms against him as a fallout of the approaching local elections in Haryana, with most of the sportspersons hailing from a particular community (Jat). His followers unleashed claims that the agitating wrestlers wanted to take part only in international events and not the national tournaments.

The government stepped in late, watching from the sidelines, and went in an overdrive only after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) formed a fact-finding panel to look into the allegations of sexual harassment by the wrestlers, which included the Olympic medalists. Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Anurag Thakur bought peace with the wrestlers by forming an oversight committee which will run the day-to-day affairs of the wrestling federation. The beleaguered federation chairman, who is also a Lok Sabha MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party, would stay away from the functioning of the sports body. “The Oversight Committee will enquire into the allegations made by prominent sportspersons of sexual misconduct, financial irregularities and administrative lapses; undertake day-to-day administration of the WFI; and revisit the issues raised by players. The Oversight Committee will complete the enquiry in four weeks and till then, WFI President will step aside from the day-to-day functioning and he has assured to cooperate in the investigation,” said a senior official of the Sports Ministry.

So, the BJP MP is stepping aside and not stepping down. He had earlier refused to resign, saying that he would rather face investigation than go away as a criminal. In Uttar Pradesh, he has a considerable following among the people, and his image indeed has been dented by the allegations by the champion wrestekers, which included Bajrang Puniya, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and others who had taken to the Jantar Mantar in full media spotlight, while also gaining international attention.

The government response to the issue appears knee-jerk, for it’s focusing on immediate causes, which brought the wrestlers to the Jantar Mantar. The government by all means appears lacking in appetite to go after the root cause of the mess in most of the sporting federations. Over 25 cases of sexual harassment have been reported by the Sports Authority of India, as revealed by an RTI application, while the economic background of the sports persons indeed make them vulnerable to keep mum to the alleged acts of exploitation.

Thakur as a minister may not be the best person in the office to deal with the rot in the sporting federations, for the buck stops with the issue of the politicians heading them. Sandeep Singh in Haryana is a fresh instance of the need to free the sporting bodies from politicians, besides setting up mechanism which is professional and transparent to eliminate the scope of exploitation of any nature. Thakur too holds considerable influence in the business of cricket. The best possible way out should be to completely de-link sporting federations from politicians and make them only for the sports persons.

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