Shortly after Sanjay Kumar Singh, a close confidante of former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, succeeded him in elections on Thursday, Olympic medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik announced her retirement from the sport.
Sanjay Singh stepped into the role after winning the elections that were forced after Brij Bhushan Sharan, who held the WFI President’s position for 12 years, had to step down following allegations of sexual harassment by prominent wrestlers, including Malik. The accusations had led to multiple protests at Jantar Mantar in the Capital this year, demanding the arrest of former WFI chief.
Having previously served as vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh wrestling body, Sanjay Singh was part of WFI’s executive council and served as its joint secretary since 2019. Securing 40 out of 47 votes in Thursday’s elections, he clinched the top post, while Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sheoran, favoured by the protesting wrestlers for the WFI presidency, received only seven votes.
Expressing disappointment at the outcome during a press conference, top wrestlers Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia voiced their dismay.
Amid tears, Olympic medallist Malik, symbolically putting her boots on the table, declared her decision to quit wrestling. She expressed gratitude to those who supported the cause, acknowledging the efforts made during the protests.
“We slept on the road for 40 days… women who came from far off, who had nothing to eat, still turned up. We couldn’t win, but we thank you very much,” she said.
“We fought the battle with full commitment, but if the President remains someone like Brij Bhushan – his business partner [Sanjay Kumar Singh] – if he stays in this federation, then I will quit wrestling, and I will not be seen at the venue ever again,” added the 2016 Olympic bronze-medallist and 2022 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist during the press conference in the Capital.
“His right-hand man has become the president, who is more than his son. We wanted a woman president to prevent sexual exploitation in the future. Today’s results show that no woman has got elected. We fought this with full strength,” she added further.
Bajrang Punia, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bronze-medallist, said it is unfortunate that the “government’s promise to us was not fulfilled”.
“You saw the protest in January, and you also saw a committee being formed and the sports minister promising in front of the camera that neither Brij Bhushan nor his associates will return to power. We waited for months and protested again, but it didn’t work out,” said Punia.
“We were active players [when we were protesting]. I don’t think we will get justice. You saw the elections today, Brij Bhushan’s man has been elected,” he told reporters.
“I feel the next couple of generations will have to fight the battle that we fought,” said Punia.
Commonwealth and Asian Games gold-medallist Vinesh Phogat said, “We had first notified the home minister and given the names of each individual. He told us to not worry and promised action. We came to the streets only 3-4 months after that.
“It feels sad to see such people (Sanjay Singh) getting positions. He is Brij Bhushan’s right-hand man, more than his brother. The girls will be sexually exploited. What used to happen behind curtains will now happen in the open. We are upset that we failed in our endeavour to get justice,” Vinesh said.
“The entire country knows about our plight. Despite that, people involved in exploitation are coming to power. No woman has been elected. We are hopeful that we will get justice. Our wrestling future is in darkness. We don’t know who to complain to,” Vinesh added.
After being elected as President, Sanjay Singh, while talking to reporters, said that they would not let anything hamper the preparation of wrestlers since the Olympics are scheduled for next year. He also mentioned plans to conduct national championships.
“Jinko kushti karni hai woh kushti karein. Jinko rajneeti karni hain woh rajneeti karein. (Wrestlers who want to compete should wrestle. Those who want to do politics should do politics),” Singh added after winning the election.