Sakshi Malik's Emotional Exit from Wrestling as Brij Bhushan Singh's Ally Takes Charge at WFI

Malik, who secured a bronze medal in the women's 58 kg freestyle category at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had been at the forefront of protests against Brij Bhushan Singh, the former head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
Sakshi placed her wrestling shoes on the table as she declared her retirement from the sport on Thursday.
Sakshi placed her wrestling shoes on the table as she declared her retirement from the sport on Thursday.

New Delhi - Wrestlers have been protesting in the national capital since January 2023 against sexual harassment by then head Brij Bhushan Singh. Unfortunately, it seems the protest has come to a surprising end as Sanjay Singh, a close aide of the former head, was appointed as the new head of the Wrestling Federation of India on December 21, following long-delayed elections.

At a press conference in Delhi, teary-eyed Sakshi Malik, the bronze medallist from the Rio Olympics, symbolically placed her wrestling shoes on the table as she declared her retirement from the sport. Malik, who secured a bronze medal in the women's 58 kg freestyle category at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had been at the forefront of protests against Brij Bhushan Singh, the former head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

Sanjay Singh, known for his allegiance to Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the former WFI chief, assumed the role of president following a delayed election process. The prolonged delays were marked by ongoing protests by prominent Indian wrestlers who had accused Brij Bhushan Singh of sexual harassment. The controversy surrounding the leadership transition and the allegations against the former chief have brought to light broader issues within the Indian wrestling community, including the need for athlete safety and concerns about the governance of sports organizations.

Sakshi, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia spearheaded protests, advocating for a change in leadership within the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Despite the prolonged delays in the election process, Sanjay Singh, a loyal supporter of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, emerged victorious, securing 40 out of 47 votes. Sanjay, formerly the vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh wrestling body, defeated former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anita Sheoran in the race for the president's position.

Sakshi, Vinesh, and Bajrang had endorsed Anita as their preferred candidate for becoming the first female president of the wrestling body. However, Sanjay Singh's win, coupled with his close ties to Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who celebrated the victory for 'his camp' on Thursday, left top wrestlers disappointed. They expressed their dissatisfaction during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

Sakshi Mallik, being congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on winning bronze medal at Rio Olympics.
Sakshi Mallik, being congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on winning bronze medal at Rio Olympics.

Congress Leader and boxer Vijender Singh on December 22 spoke about Sakshi Malik’s choice. ANI reported him saying, "The sports industry is upset with it (wrestler Sakshi Malik's retirement). We will go to every player, every stadium, and every 'akhada' and speak to them about women's safety, the employment of athletes, and we will stand with them. "As a player, I can understand the anguish of Sakshi Malik as she quit wrestling because she did not get justice from the government in the sexual harassment case. If this can happen with athletes who have brought medals for the country, then what will happen with the common people."

Wrestler’s Protest - A Brief History

Malik and fellow wrestlers began their initial protest in January, temporarily ending it when Brij Bhushan Singh faced administrative sanctions from the sports ministry, coupled with a government pledge to investigate the allegations. However, the athletes resumed their demonstration in April, prompted by the government's failure to disclose the findings from an investigative panel.

The WFI missed the August deadline for appointing a new president, resulting in Indian wrestlers participating as neutral athletes in global events. The scheduled WFI elections faced delays, court interventions, and the suspension of the wrestling body by United World Wrestling (UWW). The year concluded with the election of Brij Bhushan's loyalist, Sanjay Singh, as the new WFI chief on December 21.

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