wfi: Sports ministry suspends all activities of WFI, fires top official

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The Union sports ministry has asked the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to suspend its activities, including its general body meeting scheduled for Sunday in Ayodhya, till an oversight committee takes charge of the body.

This came a day after the government set up the oversight panel to examine allegations of sexual abuse and financial irregularities against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh that were brought to light by prominent sportspersons recently.

Singh who had earlier said that the emergency general body meeting of around 80 members will take up all issues raised by sportspersons, tweeted on Sunday evening that he was not “larger than the party.”

He said his commitment to the BJP was unquestionable and asked his followers to not vent their anger on social media by posting objectionable content.

The sports ministry also issued instructions to suspend WFI’s assistant secretary, Vinod Tomar, who had openly backed Singh and accused the protesting wrestlers of a “hidden agenda”.

The government said Tomar’s “continued presence will be detrimental” to the working of the oversight body. The ministry has yet to announce the names of the committee members.

Many prominent wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Ravi Dahiya have accused Singh of harassment and intimidation. Singh has been heading the WFI for ten years now.The sports ministry on Saturday had directed Singh to stay away from the day-to-day affairs of the WFI.

Singh was however present at a wrestling event in his bastion Gonda (in Uttar Pradesh) on the same day, a development that irked wrestlers who had called off their protest a few hours after talks with sports minister Anurag Thakur.

Thakur said on Sunday that the ranking tournament for wrestlers in Gonda had been cancelled and that the body had been asked to reimburse those participants who had paid an entry fee.

The decision to form an oversight committee, seen as a breakthrough in talks between the protesters and the ministry, was taken after a marathon meeting Friday night that lasted five hours between the sports minister and wrestlers in the presence of the sports secretary and DG, Sports Authority of India, ET has learnt.

Back-channel talks with the wrestlers will continue, even as the ministry finalises the names of the members of the committee, sources said.

According to those in the know, handling the issue was a challenge as the federation is an independent elected body and the ministry had to quickly find a solution to reassure wrestlers who had been protesting since Wednesday.

The government also wanted to avoid a repeat of the suspension of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), a matter that went to the Supreme Court before the Under-17 Women’s World Cup last year.

Since there was no formal complaint or police action, the sports ministry was keen to understand the exact charges against Singh so that further action could be initiated, a source said.

Even as the talks started on Thursday, the ministry also sought a response from the WFI within 72 hours, while also making efforts to stall public utterances by Singh.

A six-term MP and a strongman from Gonda, 66-year-old Singh had threatened that there would be a “tsunami” if he was asked to quit.

Sources said the Centre had made it clear that with the Republic Day closing in, the protests had to end soon for the festivities to take over.

A wrestler told ET that Thakur had listened to their complaints patiently and had asked them to suggest names that could be considered for the committee.

The second round of conclusive talks with the wrestlers were held on Thursday after Thakur cut short his programmes in Himachal Pradesh and rushed to Delhi to address the issue.

“The minister told us that even the coaches who have been complained against will be asked to step aside till the investigation is complete. That was reassuring,” another source said.

Meanwhile, WFI has rejected all the allegations in an eight-page response to the ministry, and instead accused the players of pushing vested interests and of conspiracy against other states that wanted to develop in sports just like Haryana.

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