Risako Kawai, a three-time former world champion and gold medalist from the Tokyo Olympics, has come out in favour of the top Indian wrestlers who have been protesting Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment and exploitation.
Kawai tweeted a BBC News video featuring interviews with Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Bajrang Punia on the wrestlers’ protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, saying, “I hope it will be an environment where Indian athletes can practise with peace of mind.”
Kawai is the first well-known international wrestler to recognise and publicly support the demonstrations, which have been going on for a month. She won the 57kg women’s freestyle gold in Tokyo.
The wrestlers explain in the BBC video how their prolonged protest, which has lasted for a month, has affected their training in a significant year with the Asian Games and the World Championships still to come. “Normally, with important events approaching, we would be gearing up to perform at our best at this time. We are losing so much personally. It has been challenging to remain here indefinitely after performing at a high level, according to Vinesh Phogat.
We most likely would have been receiving our training abroad if the protests had not taken place, Bajrang continued. We have been trying to get ready for that because “the whole country has their hopes on us to be able to win another Olympic medal for the country.”
Both Bajrang and Vinesh are on the long list for the Asian Games, but they both acknowledge that it will be difficult to even qualify for the trial, let alone win an Asian medal, as their preparation has stagnated due to the ongoing demonstrations.
The wrestlers have been firm in their demand for the federation president’s arrest and have vowed to remain at the Jantar Mantar protest site till Brijbhushan, an additional BJP MP from the UP district of Kaiserganj, is imprisoned.
Only if athletes are treated decently and with respect will our nation advance (in sports),” Vinesh remarked. “A sport does not simply advance by providing funding or facilities.”
In the meantime, Brijbhushan is the subject of two FIRs filed by the Delhi Police, one of which relates to allegations made by a young wrestler under the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The investigations are still underway, and the wrestlers have even requested a court-monitored investigation in a magistrate court in New Delhi’s Rouse Avenue because they believe the Delhi Police won’t do so given Brijbhushan’s political background.