Birj Bhushan loyalist Sanjay Singh wins WFI polls, Sakshi Malik quits wrestling

Sakshi Malik announces her retirement from wrestling, saying she will not compete under the presidency of a Brij Bhushan loyalist

Sanjay Singh (photo: @rwac48/X)
Sanjay Singh (photo: @rwac48/X)

NH Digital

Sanjay Singh on Thursday became the new president of the Wrestling  Federation of India (WFI) with his panel comfortably winning most of the posts in the delayed polls as outgoing chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh gained indirect control over the sports body.

Meanwhile, calling the WFI's move an insult to the Jat community, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik announced her retirement from wrestling, saying she will not compete under the presidency of a Brij Bhushan loyalist.

"We fought from our heart but if a man like Brij Bhushan, his business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling," said a teary-eyed Sakshi, and kept her shoes on the table in a dramatic announcement. "We wanted a female president but that did not happen," the 31-year-old, who is also a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, added.

Sanjay Singh, who is a Brij Bhushan loyalist and UP wrestling association vice-president, secured 40 votes against seven that his rival Anita Sheoran got.

The RSS-affiliate Sanjay Singh is from Varanasi and a very close associate of Brij Bhushan. Given the tremendous interest the outgoing chief has in the sport, it is expected that Sanjay Singh will consult him in policy decisions.

"It's a triumph for thousands of wrestlers in the country who suffered in the past 7-8 months," Sanjay Singh told reporters after his huge win.

However, the panel of Sheoran, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, managed to win the key post of secretary-general as Prem Chand Lochab, a former RSPB secretary, beat Darshan Lal 27-19.

Devender Singh Kadian, who runs a chain of food joints on national highways and is considered to be close to the protesting wrestlers, claimed the senior vice-president's post, beating ID Nanavati 32-15.

The Brij Bhushan camp won 13 of the 15 posts, sweeping all the four posts of vice-president with Delhi's Jai Prakash (37), West Bengal's Asit Kumar Saha (42), Punjab's Kartar Singh (44) and Manipur's N Phoni (38) emerging winners.

The new Madhya Pradesh chief minister Mohan Yadav, who did not turn up for the polls, got only five votes in the VP election.

Uttarakhand's Satyapal Singh Deshwal, who is also from the Brij Bhushan camp, is the new treasurer. He beat Jammu and Kashmir's Dushyant Sharma 34-12. All five executive committee members were also from the outgoing chief's camp.

"The wrestlers who have been protesting over the last one year should leave the path and concentrate on their sport. Only that will give them success and fame," two-time Asian games champion Kartar Singh said.

"The sport has suffered a lot in the last one year due to the protest by wrestlers and no national competition at any level has taken been held, depriving sub-juniors, juniors and seniors of jobs, promotions etc," he added.

The outcome of the polls will give top wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik the feeling that their protest against Brij Bhushan has come to naught as they could not get the fraternity behind them despite aggressively pushing for a change of guard.

They had accused Brij Bhushan of sexually harassing women wrestlers, including juniors, and managed to mobilise huge support from different sections of society, but the protest fizzled out the day they planned a march toward the new Parliament building on 28 May, when Delhi Police removed all protesters from Jantar Mantar for rioting.

The wrestlers had officially called off their protest on 7 June when sports minister Anurag Thakur assured them that none of the family members or close associates of Brij Bhushan would be allowed to enter the WFI election fray.

Stage set for lifting UWW ban on WFI

The election of the new executive council will also pave the way for lifting the United World Wrestling ban on WFI. The world governing body of the game had banned WFI for not conducting elections on time, forcing Indian wrestlers to compete as neutral athletes at the 2023 World Championships.

The election process was set in motion in July but was delayed because of court cases. The Supreme Court recently set aside the stay imposed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, paving the way for the process to elect the new WFI governing body.

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