Vinesh Phogat joins growing wave as athletes return awards amid WFI controversy

Phogat was stopped in her attempt to reach the PMO in New Delhi, after which, she left her awards on Kartavya Path pavement. This significant move follows the footsteps of Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia and Deaflympics champion Virender Singh Yadav, who recently returned their Padma Shri awards.

| Updated: 30 December, 2023 9:17 pm IST
Vinesh Phogat left her Arjuna and Khel Ratna Awards on the pavement of Kartavya Path in New Delhi

NEW DELHI: In a powerful act of protest against the treatment of female wrestlers in India, on Saturday, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games Gold medalist Vinesh Phogat left her Arjuna and Khel Ratna Awards on the pavement of Kartavya Path in New Delhi.

Phogat was stopped in her attempt to reach the PMO in New Delhi, after which, she left her awards on Kartavya Path.
This significant move follows the footsteps of Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia and Deaflympics champion Virender Singh Yadav, who recently returned their Padma Shri awards. Meanwhile, Rio Games bronze medallist Sakshi Malik announced her retirement from the sport.

Earlier, as soon as the results of Wrestling Federation Elections was announced, teary-eyed wrestler Sakshi Malik had left her shoes on the table in front of her after interacting with the media, as a part of the protest, following which she announced her official exit from wrestling. The collective protest is a response to the controversial election of Sanjay Singh as the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on December 21.

ALSO READ: Sports Ministry suspends WFI chief Sanjay Singh after Sakshi Mallik quits wrestling

Sanjay Singh’s connection to Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan, former WFI president and BJP MP, has heightened concerns within the wrestling community. Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan is facing serious allegations of sexual harassment, with Phogat, Punia, and Malik all coming forward with accusations against him. The gravity of these claims prompted the sports ministry to swiftly suspend the newly elected WFI.

“May this day not come in the life of any player. The women wrestlers of the country are going through the worst phase,” Bajrang Punia said on Saturday, in a post on X.

On Tuesday, Vinesh Phogat, 29, decided to return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards to the Prime Minister. Expressing the belief that such accolades have lost their meaning amidst the struggles wrestlers face for justice, Phogat emphasised in her letter that their lives are not reflective of mere “fancy government advertisements” on women’s empowerment.

In her letter posted on ‘X’ Phogat wrote, “The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards don’t have any meaning in my life now. Every woman in this country wants to lead a dignified life. So PM sir, I want to return my Dhyan Chand and Arjun award to you so that these awards don’t become a burden on us in our endeavour to lead a dignified life.”

In a twist of events, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has taken proactive steps to address the unfolding crisis. A three-member ad hoc committee has been formed to oversee the day-to-day affairs of the WFI. Bhupinder Singh Bajwa, President of the Wushu Association of India, will lead the committee, joined by hockey Olympian MM Somaya and former international shuttler Manjusha Kanwar.

Phogat’s symbolic act, combined with the collective actions of her fellow wrestlers, underscores a powerful call for accountability and reform within the Wrestling Federation of India.

ALSO READ: Future of female wrestlers bleak: Sakshi Mallik retires as Brij Bhushan’s aide becomes WFI Prez

As the ad hoc committee assumes responsibility, the wrestling community is hopeful for a path forward that prioritises transparency, athlete welfare, and the restoration of the sport’s integrity. The champions have spoken not only with words but with impactful actions, challenging the status quo for the betterment of Indian wrestling.

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