Who is Anita Sheoran, daring to take on Brij Bhushan’s men in WFI polls?
This former gold medallist in the 2010 Commonwealth Games is running for the hot seat
The crisis in the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has come back to grab the end-of-year sports headlines, with the spotlight on a former women’s champion who is taking on the powerful coterie close to tainted ex-president Brij Bhushan Singh.
Anita Sheoran, a 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and the only woman among the four nominees for the post, will be contesting the federation presidency against Sanjay Kumar Singh, a vice-president in Brij Bhushan’s UP state association for years.
Now 39, Anita is hoping to be the face of the athletes and is backed by Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and the decorated Vinesh Phogat — the trio who were at the forefront of the agitation which rocked the fraternity and even led to a ban on the WFI by United World Wrestling (UWW), an international governing body for the sport of amateur wrestling.
The odds are definitely stacked against Anita, as the elections are only a numbers game rather than a battle of principles, but the spunky police inspector from Rohtak is game for the challenge.
It will certainly boil down to whether the powers that-be in the Union government want a change of regime as Brij Bhushan, a long-standing BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Madhya Pradesh, had been in the eye of the storm since the agitation began against him at Jantar Mantar in the capital earlier this year.
Brij Bhushan was found liable for prosecution for sexual harassment, molestation and stalking of women wrestlers in the chargesheet submitted by Delhi Police. He was granted bail but an ongoing hearing is scheduled for 20 December at Delhi's Rouse Avenue court, a day before the election on 21 December, which has already been deferred a number of times.
Speaking to Indian Express on Sunday, Anita — a witness in the sexual harassment case — went on the offensive: “Nobody close to Brij Bhushan should be contesting these elections. If Brij Bhushan’s loyalists contest and win, there won’t be any reforms in the wrestling federation. He still has a strong grip over the WFI. Everyone knows that the person I am contesting against is close to Brij Bhushan. If women wrestlers are to feel safe, WFI needs a proper clean up. If the elections don’t bring about change then what is the point?”
Only last week, Bajrang and Sakshi had met Union sports minister Anurag Thakur and reportedly wanted his intervention to have Sanjay Kumar withdrawn from the race. “This election is very significant for wrestling. If the right people win then wrestling will return to its glory days, else the sport will suffer. My appeal to those who really care about the sport is to ensure there is change in the WFI,” Anita said.
Over the last few years, a number of former international sportspersons of repute have taken up top positions in national federations at the behest of the government — a move in the right direction — but with mixed outcomes. The task will hence be cut out for Anita if at all she makes it, but then she certainly looks like the one with the right credentials.
“I have been a wrestler for two decades and I know what wrestlers need to excel. I won’t compromise when it comes to putting the needs of wrestlers first. In the current context of sexual harassment allegations, a woman president is the need of the hour. It will also be a message to all women that they will be protected if they raise their voice against harassment,” Anita said.
The former wrestler has on her wish list a WFI hotline for complaints. “I want to establish a system where wrestlers can easily register their complaints with the WFI and action is taken quickly. Everyone will have a voice and nobody will have to live in fear of officials. The WFI was being run like a one-man show and that must end. We can’t have the same people pulling strings even after the elections,” she added.