WFI elections: Brij Bhushan aide is old wine in new bottle
Sakshi Malik announces retirement as trio protesting against former WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh stand isolated after verdict
Old wine in new bottle? The cliché holds true when applied to the outcome of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections, as Sanjay Kumar Singh, a close aide of the tainted former WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh, was elected as the new president on Thursday.
The election of Sanjay Singh, who was very much part of the previous executive council and was also a joint secretary in Brij Bhushan’s regime in 2019, hardly comes as a surprise as the panel had the backing of the ruling BJP dispensation.
A former vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Wrestling Association under Brij Bhushan, Sanjay, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliate from Varanasi, garnered 40 votes against Anita Sheoran, the other presidential candidate and a former Commonwealth Games champion, who got seven votes.
Interestingly, Anita’s panel secured two seats as their candidate Prem Chand Lochab won the key position of secretary-general, while Devender Singh Kadian claimed the senior vice-president’s position. This shows that these elections, especially in Indian sports federations, are politicised and fought on numbers and ‘understanding’ more than anything else.
The verdict comes as a jolt for three of the country’s most decorated wrestlers — Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, who had been the face of a protracted agitation against Brij Bhushan Singh on allegations of sexual harassment of female wrestlers.
Malik, who claimed a bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics, announced her retirement after the WFI election results this afternoon, while Punia and Phogat — almost at the end of their wrestling careers — stand isolated in the fraternity.
Interestingly, on a day which saw Brij Bhushan’s camp reaffirm their control over the WFI after the earlier committee was disbanded, a Delhi court granted bail to former president and BJP MP and his co-accused Vinod Tomar after the charge sheet was filed by Delhi Police.
The conduct of elections in the WFI will soon see the world governing body, United World Wrestling (UWW) lift the ban on the Indian federation, even though there has been no closure to the long-standing allegations by women wrestlers.
Reacting to the wrestler trio’s decision to host a press conference (where Malik announced her retirement), the new WFI president said: ‘’Only those who want to do politics will host press conferences. The wrestlers have lost an entire year and we are only looking at the wrestlers’ future. Those who look ahead will not host press conferences, those who want to do politics will.’’
When contacted for her comments, Sheoran said: "I accept the verdict but the only reason I agreed to contest this election was to see a women’s representative in the chair. Hopefully, the girls can pursue the sport without any fear in the future."